Ofsted warns progress too slow on improvements to Tameside’s Children’s Services
Thursday 19th October 2017 @ 09:52 by Nigel P.
News Tameside

 

Childrens Services offices in Denton

Ofsted Inspectors have told Tameside Council that though they recognise improvements in Children’s Services have taken place, they are too slow and plans for improved working methods are not being put into practice.

The inspectors gave their findings in the third monitoring report into Tameside’s Children’s Services since they were put into special measures last December.

The report published last Thursday reserved four areas for particular scrutiny.

These included the management and use of information on absconding children to prevent future risk.

Clear and punctual pathway plans for children leaving care.

Proper representation for children in care and organisation of the Council in Care, so children can have their concerns and views heard.

An end of the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for children leaving the care service as they turn 18 years of age.

On the first point covering children in care who run away, the report recognised greater cooperation and information exchange with partner agencies such as health workers and the police.

This helps police to find runaway children more quickly.

However it appears that the opportunity to use the information and then be compared with current absconding and return home interviews is still not being used.

This is identified as a “significant weakness” by inspectors which is compounded by what it says is “Tameside Council’s own inability to quickly correct this situation.”

The service provided to care leavers, a major cause for concern in the original report is judged not to have made enough progress.

Delays in completing and reviewing pathway plans for children coming of age and about to leave care, still persist.

A lack of clarity and confusion surrounding arrangements to transfer work to the leaving-care team is cited as the cause.

This has meant that planning is not taking place early enough for young people leaving the care system.

Pathway plans can lack flexibility and not address the changing needs of young people about to enter the wider world.

The report does note however the “appointment of a team manager for the service is helping to improve pathway planning.”

The Council reports that the number of young people with an up-to-date pathway plan has increased in the last three months from 74.9 per cent to 78 per cent.

In relation to the young person’s council that seeks to give representation to the children’s concerns and needs and improve communication.

The Children in Care Council, named 2BeUS, had been a small group of young people who did not represent all ages.

The report says: “Over the last 12 months, the numbers of children involved in 2BeUS activity has increased, but the number who attend formal meetings continues to be very small.” The report says there are some tangible results but many objectives such as a hoped for website have still not progressed beyond a plan.

On accommodation the report noted that the Council had not used bed and breakfast for at least six months and has also waived council tax for care leavers until their 21st birthday.

However the report was pessimistic about the future provision of accommodation for care leavers as the inspectors feel the Council does not have access to enough accommodation of suitable quality to meet future demand.

In the meantime there are several areas of progress and cause for optimism, with a vast improvement on issues such as the number of agency staff and high turn over of staff.

These elements had been identified as a major concern in the original report and subsequent monitoring visit reports.

The size of the leaving-care team has increased and caseloads are now lower.

Inspectors saw evidence of staff spending more time with young people and giving them good- quality support.

This includes help to meet children’s emotional, accommodation and financial needs.

A new housing worker is working to improve accommodation choices, and young people are able to register for housing earlier.

There has been some movement in councillors, council officers and managers running Children’s Services within the council.

Cllr Peter Robinson who stepped in last year for Cllr Alison Gwynne (who had run the department for the previous six years) is now replaced by Cllr Jim Fitzpatrick.

Cllr Robinson was appointed in 2016, the year the original damning Ofsted report was published following Cllr Alison Gwynne’s previous six year tenure.

Stephanie Butterworth remains in charge of Adult Services, but the council has now appointed James Thomas as head of Children’s Services.

Mr Thomas comes to Tameside from the London Borough of Newham and previously served with Westminster Council.

Dominic Tumelty, assistant executive for Children’s Services, is believed to have stepped down from his position.

Mr Thomas has vast experience as an actual social work practitioner, working in child protection before becoming a council officer.

Stockport Council is assisting Tameside with its auditing process to ensure that all relevant data is collated and processed in a way that can assist social workers and managers in monitoring progress and outcomes for children within the Council’s care.

The auditing process itself has come in for criticism with inspectors warning that though the auditing has improved, too much attention is paid to compliance rather than using the data for the good of the children.

Tory Deputy Cllr Doreen Dickinson, commenting on the report told the Reporter: “I believe progress is slow because there is too much attention concentrating on management issues rather than on the service delivery to the children themselves.”

In response to the latest report Tameside Council released the following statement:

 “Tameside Council welcomes the publication of this Ofsted monitoring letter as an important step on our improvement journey.

We feel that this gives us a useful indication of where we need to focus our improvement work at this point. There is however significant further work to do and our teams will work to ensure that children and their families receive the best possible service.

The findings highlight the need for us to work closely with our partners to achieve an increased pace of improvement in the coming weeks and months.  Although we have made sustained improvements in some areas, it is clear that we need to accelerate the pace of improvement and ensure that the progress that has been made is sustained and well embedded.  As a part of our strategy to achieve this – we’ve introduced a new leadership structure. Cllr Jim Fitzpatrick has temporarily taken on the role of Executive Member for Children’s Services (alongside his existing Finance and Performance portfolio) and is further supported by Cllr John Taylor, the Deputy Leader and Cllr Allison Gwynne, both of whom have considerable knowledge and experience of Children’s Services.

We recognise that with the significant reduction in our budgets we have taken out too much leadership capacity from the Council’s management team The role of Director of Adults and Children’s Services has been split into two separate statutory roles with the existing post holder to focus on adults services (including helping to drive our ambitious plans around integrated health and social care). Our former Assistant Director of children’s services has played a considerable role in the improvement journey. However, we have together taken the decision that it is time to hand over the reins and to bring in fresh leadership to maintain improvement and increase pace of chance.  The Council has appointed an interim Director of Children’s services, James Thomas to lead the next phase of our improvement journey.

James has an excellent track record in delivering high quality children’s services and was formerly Director at Newham Council. He also has over a decade’s experience of working at Westminster Council in a leadership role for children’s services which was judged by Ofsted to be outstanding.

We are confident that James will provide us with the assured Leadership that we need as we embark on the next phase of our improvement journey.

 

The Ofsted report concluded by saying: “Despite staff and managers understanding what needs to improve, the absence of a clear plan that supports improvement in practice continues to impede progress.”

The report can be read in full @

https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/local_authority_reports/tameside/053_Monitoring%20visit%20of%20LA%20children%27s%20services%20as%20pdf.pdf

 

By Nigel Pivaro