Children’s Services – must try harder

The latest inspection by Ofsted of Somerset County Council’s Children  Services team is a mixed blessing. There are undoubtedly some positives and given the low point the department are coming from (two successive “Inadequate” ratings) this is to be welcomed. The Inspection report is on occasion damning in its lukewarm words – for instance “Overall, the pace of change, while adequate, now needs to accelerate.

No doubt we can take encouragement from some improvements in areas that have previously been problematic:

  • The increased stability of the frontline staff within the looked after service has driven improvements
  • Caseloads are described by social workers as manageable, and those seen by the inspectors were at 15 or below.
  • Children looked after are successfully encouraged to have advocates. Inspectors saw advocates being used effectively and imaginatively, particularly where large brother and sister groups are placed together.
  • Senior leaders are accurate in their assessment of key strengths and weaknesses across the service, and have responded by developing new operational procedures and better ways of working across the service.

However whilst the inspectors noted that routine supervision of social workers is taking place, they also noted that “the quality of the supervision notes in the case files does not always support this. Some supervision notes are too brief and are little more than summaries followed by a list of tasks.”

It was also disappointing to see that “The mental health needs of some young people are not being effectively met.”

And in some areas the Inspection noted that whilst there was evidence of good practice, overall performance was patchy “The quality of the recording on statutory visits is variable” and “The quality of assessments in the four children ‘looked after teams’ is variable.”

Overall this is not a disaster but given the time and resource being (rightly) poured into getting the service back up to standard, especially given the babysitting by a team from Essex County Council who are meant to be helping the Somerset team back to a robust performance, overall it is frustrating to see the slow pace of change.

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