Rob England, Head of Quality, (Children’s Services), at Gloucestershire County Council presented the Children’s Services Quality Assurance Report, (based on information reported up to November 2020).
The report confirmed that the high rate of inadequate practice reported 24 months ago had reduced significantly, albeit not at the expected pace or to the required target level. Examples of inadequate practice, where children were considered to have received a poor service, were still too common. In terms of audit, however, children were no longer identified to be at immediate risk of harm.
Overall, working practices were improving, progressing from an inadequate rating to requiring improvement. Members were advised of the need to target weaker work practices in order to offer more secure ratings, (based on consistently low levels of inadequate practice). Acknowledging concerns about weakening services for care leavers in the 3 month period prior to November 2020, it was agreed more focus was required in this area.
The report was described as encouraging. The proportion of good practice had improved during the past 12 months, but nevertheless, had been notably static during the 3 month period prior to November 2020, and had yet to reach the 40% short-term target within the Accelerated Improvement Plan (AIP). A quarter of the teams within the department had consistently delivered good practice but more work was required with practitioners and other teams to elevate standards to good.
The areas of practice requiring particular attention included: -
a) Management oversight
b) Analysis: conceptualisation available information and understanding the impact of the child/young person’s lived experiences and the service offered to them
c) Drift and delay
d) Risk assessment and review
e) Care Planning and Permanence for Children in Care
f) Meaningful and Purposeful relational practice (including contact with Care Leavers).
Building on the strengths of the teams, good working relationships and supplemented with additional training, it was hoped further improvements would continue.
For children and young people receiving a Child in Need Service, (including those with disabilities), the improvements reflected by the last report had not been sustained. Working practices rated as good for children and young people with disabilities had reduced from 38%-20% with practices rated as inadequate for Children in Need rising from 6%-18%.
There had also been a variance in the rates of good and inadequate practice for children subjected to child protection planning. Good practice had reduced from 22% to 17% and inadequate practice had increased from 14% to 20%. This group of children were suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.
Children in Care continued to be the most likely to be in receipt of a better service, with the highest levels of good or better practice at 53%, (up from 50% in the last report), and with the lowest levels of inadequate practice (3%).
Referencing performance in the Leaving Care Service, (reported at this meeting and in the report presented at the previous meeting), members noted that this service remained an area of concern. Previously, an area identified as an area of best quality practice, ratings had declined markedly in recent months. In the last 3 months, practices rated as inadequate had increased from 27% to 44%. Feedback from Young Ambassadors and from senior managers at leadership meetings believe this may have been due to insufficient contact with the young people leaving care and from ineffective responses to poor outcomes, resulting in poor transitions to independent adulthood. The committee agreed this was an area that would need careful attention and regular monitoring.
Leadership in children’s social care was evident at all levels. Leaders remained committed to providing good and outstanding services and to following a pragmatic step-by-step recovery plan and were commended at the meeting for the progress they were making in exceptionally challenging circumstances. The impact of Covid-19 on staff, however, along with improvement and transformation activity, remained a concern. Efforts to promote resilience, wellbeing and care at all times were ongoing.
Updating members on recent targets, members were informed that, as of January 2020, the quality of working practices had, for the first time, met the short-term AIP targets of 40% (Good) and 12% (Inadequate). Along with the December rate for weak practice (35%), this was the first time the department had seen weaker practice ratings reduce from a persistent level of 45%.
Reassured by the pace of improvement, members supported the proposal that, in addition to the work and activities generated from the Accelerated Improvement Plan, attention should also be given to:
a) Targeted intervention with the 18 teams identified as showing persistent weak practice;.
b) Renewed intervention around planning;
c) Work to support consistent understanding and application of the department’s expectations on supervision;
d) Close attention to improvement planning for care leaving practices;
e) Support to be given to leaders, (in terms of providing opportunities for recovery and developing resilience);
f) A review of the practice whereby auditors review the practices for which they are responsible for;
g) Specific work on helping practitioners and managers identify and articulate impact on children needed. It was explained that the longevity of this need indicated that a priority intervention was needed to support this practice improvement.
The report was noted.