Improvement journey at Croydon accelerates under new leadership

Croydon children's services improving under new leadership, says Ofsted

Published on 19th March 2019

Staff morale is improving at the London Borough of Croydon, with increasing confidence in the improvement journey under the new leadership, Ofsted has said.

The local authority's children's services was rated inadequate in September 2017 when inspectors found "widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children and their families in Croydon that leave some children at risk of significant harm".

At the time, inspectors identified a legacy of poor practice characterised by drift and delay in the provision of key services.Weak managerial oversight at all levels has not ensured that basic social work practice is of a good enough standard and there had been significant deterioration in the quality of service provision since the previous inspection in 2012.

Inspectors highlighted:

- Too many children wait too long for a decision to be made as to whether they need to be looked after, or they return home without sufficient support.

- Too few children looked after who go missing are spoken to when they return.

- The response to children who are at risk from sexual exploitation is underdeveloped.

- Supervision was ineffective in the majority of cases seen by inspectors.

- The range and coordination of early help provision for children and families are not fully established.

"Political leaders and chief officers say that vulnerable children are a top priority for the council. Effectively supporting such a high number of unaccompanied asylum seekers is a formidable challenge that has been a priority. However,this prioritisation is not having the same impact on the rest of the frontline services," said the report.

However, the second monitoring visit of Croydon in May 2018 found senior leaders and managers in the authority were progressing well in implementing their improvement plan and they had quickly responded to issues identified in the first monitoring visit.

Furthermore, the fourth monitoring visit, which reviewed the progress made for children in care,including thresholds and permanence planning, found the local authority was making progress in improving services for its children and young people. However, it warned that senior managers need to ensure that progress is consistent for all children and at a pace that meets each child’s needs.

The most recent monitoring visit of Croydon, carried out in February and published this month, focused on the progress of children receiving early help services, and those whose cases had been ‘stepped down’ following an assessment that risks had reduced.

Ofsted revealed that a permanent executive director and a permanent director of early help and children’s social care have recently taken up posts in Croydon and have quickly and accurately evaluated the current quality of practice, and they have identified appropriate priorities for improvement, althoughit is too soon to gauge the impact.

"Staff turnover remains a challenge, but senior managers are making a concerted effort to ensure that the workforce is well equipped and well supported," said the fifth monitoring visit of the authority. "Caseloads have been reduced, and some are lower than they have been for several years. Staff are benefiting from the clear strategic direction set by the executive director and from the director of early help and children’s social care,who has a dedicated focus on frontline practice."

The report highlighted:

- The new senior leadership team has brought drive, energy and focus to the improvement journey.

- The recent self-assessment of key issues to be addressed shows anacute awareness of priorities and of the need to accelerate the pace of progress.

- Thresholds across therange of services for children considered during this visit are broadly accurate,with most children receiving a service at the right level of intervention.

- The early help service has undergone a full review,with a reconfigured service launched in November 2018 which is therefore in its infancy.

- Many children whose services have been stepped down within children’s social care have a positive outcome and benefit from the intervention and services offered.

However, inspectors warned that practice remains variable. Some children experience a thorough professional response to risk and needs, with good engagement with the child and their family, including fathers who are not living in the household. Strong and sensitive direct workis undertaken in highly complex circumstances by skilled social workers. In other cases, there is a lack of focus and purpose,with insufficient analysis, some drift or delay in response, and a limited sense of the child’s identity or needs.

As a result, for a small minority of children, the service remains very poor which is compounded by staff turnover, which, in turn, impacts on the quality of the social work relationship.

In addition, the practice for children who return home from care to live with their families is highly variable. Better practice includes well-planned transitionswith a comprehensive support package, yet poorer practice is evident when social workers do not provide prompt support or give sufficient consideration to any remaining risks.

Children do have written plans, but these are not always evaluative or outcome-focused and tend to focus on processes rather than the needs of the child. Plans are unclear about key risks or issues, and about what needs to change.

Not all staff receive supervision but social workers are generally positive about working in Croydon and morale is improving. They are encouraged by the increased visibility of and consultation offered by senior managers, and staff have greater confidence in the local authority’s plans and strategy.

"In summary, the local authority is continuing to make progress and the pace of improvement has accelerated recently. Senior leaders arebeginning to createa culture with a focus on systemic and strengths-based practice, with the experience of the child at the centre," the report concluded.

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