High staff turnover hits progress at Reading children's social care

Dan Parton
Friday, May 10, 2019

High turnover of frontline staff and frequent changes in senior managers continue to adversely impact attempts to improve children's services in Reading - but its response to concerns about children at risk is quick and effective, Ofsted has found.

Reading Borough Council's children's services was rated "inadequate" in August 2016 after child protection failings were uncovered. Since December 2018, responsibility for delivering children's social care and early help services in Reading has been with Brighter Futures for Children, a community interest company, wholly owned by the council, set up with the help of a £2.9m government grant. 

Ofsted's report reviews findings from a monitoring visit on March 12-13. This was the eighth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate.

Inspectors focused on the effectiveness of the children's single point of access (CSPoA) in responding to concerns about children, the early response to risk and the effectiveness "step up" or "step down" arrangements between different levels of intervention.

Inspectors highlighted how staff turnover continues to adversely impact on managers' ability to bring about improvement. While it noted that the recent recruitment of permanent team managers is a positive step, the instability and interim status of large parts of the workforce indicate ongoing fragility.

Inspectors said that while the CSPoA has broadly sustained the improvements seen in the 2017 monitoring visit, weaknesses in some areas of practice remain, and the quality of social work practice in child protection enquiries and assessments remains inconsistent. Despite this, inspectors saw no cases where children were at immediate risk of harm.

Elsewhere, the quality of performance management information was described as poor. Some data indicated that 191 children had not been seen by a social worker, which was not in fact the case. 

Also, not all relevant partners contribute to strategy discussions. This concern was noted in the 2017 monitoring visit and has not improved, the inspectors said. This was a "missed opportunity" given the co-location of partners in the CSPoA and could lead to gaps in understanding a child's circumstances, early understanding of risks and initial safety planning.

Other positives included Brighter Futures' response to children who go missing, which was praised for its effective weekly multi-agency "missing" meetings and that the actions from these meetings do successfully reduce risk to children. 

Antony Kildare, Brighter Futures managing director, noted that the company is streamlining its processes to capture data more accurately. "This will give us better performance management information on frontline practice," he added. 

Eleni Ioannides, interim director of children's services, said: "We know there are areas which need addressing in terms of oversight and the consistent quality of social work practice but we're at the start of our improvement journey and this report indicates we're on the right track."