Newham needs to address improvement plan urgently, says Ofsted

Mayor apologises after Ofsted rates children's services as inadequate for overall effectiveness

Published on 29th March 2019

Senior leadership at Newham children's services need to urgently progress their improvement plan to address deficits in social work practice, Ofsted has warned.

An inspection of Newham children's services found that there has been "a significant deterioration" in children’s services since the previous inspection in 2014.  Inadequate progress has been made in response to the areas of improvement identified both in 2014 and in the focused visit of 2018.
Ofsted rated children's services as inadequate for overall effectiveness.

"Significant practice deficits remain in key areas, and leaders are failing in their duties to children in care and care leavers. Leaders have not created an environment for social work to flourish, and there has been a distinct lack of ambition for children," said the report.

The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection was rated as requiring improvement to be good. The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families and overall effectiveness was rated as inadequate.

Senior leaders came under fire for a "lack of child focus" which had led to "the standard of social work practice in Newham deteriorating significantly".
Inspectors also criticised leaders for:

 - Neglecting their duties as corporate parents in Newham.

- Failing to actively listen to children and families and use feedback to improve services.

- Failing to act on recommendations from the previous inspection including improving  the accuracy of recording, the quality of management oversight and supervision and the development of effective quality assurance and performance management.

- Not embedding a learning culture at Newham.

Furthermore, senior leaders speak about their vision for an embedded performance culture, but acknowledge that progress has been too slow. Performance information remains under-developed, and this, coupled with concerns about its accuracy, means that performance data cannot be wholly relied on.

While supervision of social workers and support staff is mostly regular, and staff report that they feel well supported, the record of supervision is too task-focused and provides limited reflection, which is a missed opportunity to provide clearer direction to social workers who are working with challenging and complex families.

The sufficiency strategy is still in draft form and is yet to be fully developed in conjunction with a commissioning strategy. This lack of forward planning means that there are not always the right placements to meet children’s needs.

Political and corporate support has recently been strengthened alongside substantial investment in children’s services. There is a focus on increasing stability in the workforce through positive engagement with Frontline and ‘Step Up to Social Work’ programmes and a strong recruitment offer.

However, inspectors warn that overall "social workers are not working in an environment in which good social work is encouraged and able to develop and flourish".

The authority also faced criticism for children in care and care leavers in Newham receiving inadequate services.

"It is of significant concern that a high number of young people open to the leaving care service were found not to be in receipt of services at the time of inspection. The leaving care service does not become involved with children in care early enough, resulting in poor preparation and planning. The service is not child centred in the way it is set up, for example being based in a building which does not allow young people access. It is an omission that there is no handover between the social worker and outreach worker before transfer of cases or joint introductory visits," said the report.

Inspectors also highlighted:

- Permanence planning and tracking is ineffective with children often drifting into permanent placements rather than their placements being proactively planned.

- ‘Silo’ working is contributing to poor practice in this area, with permanence not well understood at the early stages of a child’s involvement with social care.

- Permanent matching for long-term fostering is poor and there is significant delay and drift for most children who require this.

- Decisions for children to come into care are not always based on up-to-date assessments or made in response to escalating risk.

- Too often, children come into care at a time of crisis, even where there is ongoing social care involvement.

- Life-story work is under-developed and was rarely found for children whose plan is not for adoption.

- Pathway plans are highly variable in quality.

However, it was noted that assessments and plans are generally up to date, with many reflecting changes in children’s circumstances. Most children live in appropriate placements which meet their needs, and which are matched to their culture and religion.

Social workers visit children regularly and children are routinely seen alone, including those children placed at a distance.

Children in care are helped to improve their health and children’s emotional and mental health needs are understood and met, with a specific child and adolescent mental health team (CAMHS) for children in care offering a timely response to referrals.

There are very low numbers of children who are adopted, but for those children whose plan is for adoption, there is much better practice.

The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection was rated as the better performing area in the inspection as requiring improvement.

The report highlighted that children at risk of immediate harm are quickly identified, and strategy discussions take place on the same day or within 24 hours. Furthermore the report outlined that:

- When children in Newham are identified as being in need of help and protection, they are appropriately safeguarded.

- Effective work is undertaken with them to reduce risk and address their needs.

- Child protection enquiries appropriately reduce risk to most children.

- Stronger work was found in the Disabled Children and Young People Service (DCYPS), where most of the assessments seen were of a good quality, were child-focused, and evidenced a proportionate approach taken where there were no safeguarding concerns.

- The work of the designated officer is a strength.

- There is much improved strategic oversight and coordination of children who are identified as at risk of exploitation or who go missing.

- The management and oversight of elective home education are good with tight, well-established systems in place.

The report warns, however, that the early help offer is not well understood and is too limited in scope. Thresholds for services are inconsistently applied and while many children benefit from good-quality assessments, the quality is variable, and some assessments are poor.

Child protection and child in need plans are not yet consistently good enough but the quality of plans improves as children move into longer-term planning, and, for these children, positive progress can be seen over time. Management oversight and decision-making are variable and not consistently effective in driving up the quality of social work practice.

Overall Ofsted recommends that senior leadership at Newham urently progress the improvement plan to address and senior managers’ should interact with social workers to enable staff to feel listened to. There should also be opportunities for children to participate in their planning and influence wider service development.

The accuracy and reliability of the existing quality assurance and performance management system needs to be addressed, Ofsted added.

Furthermore, the regularity and quality of staff supervision and management oversight and the quality and impact of decision-making needs improving as does the quality and timeliness of social work assessments, so that they consistently inform plans.

Newham needs to address the quality and effectiveness of safety planning for children at risk of exploitation and ensure the take-up of return home interviews and the effective use of information to identify and mitigate emerging risks.

Permanence planning needs work for children to ensure that permanence is achieved for all children without delay and Newham needs to improve the quality of life-story work for all children. Finally, care leavers’ experience of leaving care services needs to improve and care leavers should have access to outreach workers who know and understand their needs.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said: “It’s clear that services for children and young people in Newham have not been good enough, and I apologise unreservedly to our young people and their families for the unacceptable failings.

“I’m ambitious for our borough’s children and promised before I was elected Mayor that I would place them at the forefront of our work and make Newham a child-centred borough - these findings further underline my commitment.

“We have made improvements during my first 10 months as Mayor, and my budget last month saw the council agree to the greatest investment in services for Newham’s children and young people in a generation.

“We will also be implementing an immediate action plan to address other issues highlighted by Ofsted, and we are determined to work in partnership with children and young people to ensure that their needs and priorities are at the heart of our improvements.”

The Mayor highlighted improvements already made to children’s services in Newham including £10.6m for children’s services; £1.4m in youth services, and £1.3m for special educational provision in the 2019/20 Budget. A robust service improvement plan will be monitored by a Safeguarding Improvement Board.

Further measures will include:

- Additional support and training for social workers where needed.

- Using examples of best practice to help staff understand what “good” looks like.

- More training for managers.

- Introducing a planned review schedule for every child in need.

- A commitment to doing more to hear the views of children and families in improving services.

- Greater oversight of improvements by the Mayor, Cabinet, Council and Overview and Scrutiny.

- A proposed new corporate structure to bring greater leadership in children’s services, including new roles that will ensure the voice and ambitions of young people are reflected across all council services.

Mayor Fiaz added: “Although there has been unprecedented cuts to our budgets by central government during the past decade, we know we have to do better. We are committed to working with all our staff, our dedicated social workers, Newham’s children and families, our partners, the DfE and Ofsted to give every child and young person in our borough the services they deserve.”

London Borough of Newham - Inspection of children’s social care services

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