Ofsted highlight challenges in recruiting social workers in Cambridgeshire in Children’s Services inspection

Report says: “Improvement has not been made at sufficient pace in services for children in need and those in need of protection”

By Stephen Briggs
Thursday, 14th April 2022, 3:00 pm
Ofsted made the visit last month
Ofsted made the visit last month

Challenges in recruiting social workers have had an impact on children’s services in Cambridgeshire, Ofsted inspectors have said.

The inspectors praised senior leaders at the authority for maintaining continuity throughout structural changes throughout the COVID pandemic.

The team from Ofsted said the pandemic had continued to present significant challenges to the county, but recognised that leaders had ensured the safety of children well in the circumstances.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

They acknowledged the challenges of social worker recruitment in the county, but added that leaders recognised this. They particularly praised the support from ‘well-informed, committed’ elected members, adding that with financial investment, action was being taken to strengthen services.

The Council is addressing this through a new strategy which retains and develops talented staff, together with a refreshed recruitment campaign. Leaders are aware and very appreciative of the vital importance of staff and how they deliver effective services for children and were delighted that Inspectors recognised and valued their contribution.

The report said; “At the last inspection of Cambridgeshire children’s services in January 2019, the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection were found to require improvement to be good.

“Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges to which senior leaders have responded well. Recent changes in senior leadership have maintained continuity.

“However, the implementation of a new practice model in February 2020 was affected by the pandemic. This, and continuing challenges in recruiting enough social workers, has meant that improvement has not been made at sufficient pace in services for children in need and those in need of protection.

“Leaders recognise this and, supported by well-informed, committed elected members and financial investment, they are taking action to strengthen services.”

During the focused visit to Children’s Services in March, inspectors looked at Cambridgeshire’s arrangements for children in need and children subject to a protection plan.

“Children who need help or protection are identified and most receive a timely assessment of risk and need. In most cases, thresholds for working with children are appropriately applied,” they said.

They found that most children in need and those with a child protection plan were supported well, and that children’s practitioners held cases that were appropriate to their role, and received regular supervision.

“Effective early help arrangements reduce the need for social care interventions. Adolescents are supported effectively by specialist teams,” said inspectors.

They found that social workers got to know children and their families well, and helped them directly to address problems.

“Meetings are well attended by families and professionals, who contribute to the plan for the child, so that broader needs are met. Child-in-need cases are stepped down to a well-resourced Early Help service when appropriate. Families are contacted swiftly, introductions help the work to get off to a good start and families experience a seamless service,” said the inspectors’ report.

They also praised the effective relationships between workers in adolescent teams and young people at risk of entering care.

“This work is characterised by persistence, good partnership working, and an effective problem-solving approach. Children and young people at risk of extra-familial exploitation benefit from support by specialist adolescent workers, a joined-up approach with partner agencies, and effective strategic oversight,” the report added.

Management teams were also praised for their support: “Staff are well supported by a stable and experienced management group who are available to their workers and who provide regular supervision.”

“Quality assurance processes are comprehensive and detailed. A programme of performance meetings ensures lines of sight, accountability, and learning at all levels,” concluded inspectors.

Inspectors highlighted some areas where social work practice in Cambridgeshire could be improved – mostly related to capacity and staffing. These areas are:

The capacity of social workers to undertake effective direct work with children and their families;

The timeliness of the allocation of social workers to meet children’s and families’ needs;

The time available to ensure high quality reflective supervision and decision making for children is achieved;

An improved understanding by managers and social workers of the risks of sexual abuse;

Social workers’ access to relevant training, including induction into the practice model.

Cllr Bryony Goodliffe, chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Children and Young People Committee, said: “I am delighted that Ofsted recognised the many strengths in Children’s Services – particularly the way we responded to the challenges of COVID-19. This is testimony to the hard work and dedication of all our social workers and management teams. Inspectors rightly highlighted a few areas for improvement – areas which had already been identified and are in the process of being addressed.”

The full report is available at https://files.ofsted.gov.uk/v1/file/50181344