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Social worker recruitment main issue for children’s services
Thursday 31st January 2019 @ 09:55 by Lauren Entwistle

By Charlotte Green, local democracy reporter.

‘Supply and demand’ issues over employing enough social workers is one of the biggest problems facing children’s services in the region, town hall bosses have said.

Inspectors from Ofsted have conducted their last monitoring visit of Tameside council’s children services since rating the department inadequate in 2016.

They have been carrying out visits every two months since that date.

This seventh visit reviewed the quality of social work with a focus on arrangements in the ‘Hub’, which is the borough’s ‘front door’ team, and the duty teams.

In the latest letter to the town hall, Inspector Shabana Abasi said that the authority continues to make ‘some improvements’ for youngsters who need help and protection.

However, she said there remain issues with the ‘quality and consistency’ of assessments and analysis of children’s needs.

And recruitment and retention of social workers on the frontline continues to be a ‘significant challenge’ for the town hall, her report adds.

Ms Abasi said: “Senior leaders recognise that workforce instability brings with it a number of vulnerabilities, including inconsistency in the quality of practice.

“The local authority is actively engaged in a number of relevant initiatives to support social work recruitment and staff development, but at this early stage there has been limited impact.”

Briefing the borough’s executive cabinet on the findings, head of children’s services, Richard Hancock, told councillors it was a ‘generally positive’ visit.

“They found that the decision making was correct, the threshold was correct, interventions were timely and appropriate and children were not being left at risk so generally positive in that sense,” he said.

“They picked up on some systems they thought could be less complicated and they picked up on some qualitative issues around planning and supervision.

“The biggest issue that was identified for us was staffing and that around the turnover of staff coming down.

“I think the direction of travel is positive if not as fast as Ofsted would like, or we would like.”

He added: “Recruiting qualified social workers is proving a problem nationally, across Greater Manchester across the north west it’s the same.

“What’s changed more recently is that agency staff in the past few months have also been quite difficult to recruit.

“No one knows why – it used to be, in crude terms, if you could supply the money you could get agency staff.

“It’s not that simple it’s actually about identifying agency staff and again that is a north west regional issue.

“It’s a supply and demand issue at the moment.”

Ms Abasi’s letter states that in most cases, identification of the children who are in need of urgent help and protection is recognised and responded to quickly through a multi-agency response.

Threshold decision-making about children’s levels of need has improved and is now more consistent than it was during the monitoring visit in January last year, she said.

As a result, the services received by most children are relevant to their needs.

Weaknesses remain in the quality and consistency of assessments and analysis of children’s needs, planning, chronologies and supervision, the letter states.

Council leader Brenda Warrington said: “It would appear that we are definitely heading in the right as far as Ofsted’s concerns.

“I am hoping when we do come to a full inspection it will be recognised that there is significant improvement.”