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Social workers’ caseloads still ‘too high’ - Ofsted

SOCIAL workers’ caseloads in Warwickshire’s children’s services department are still too high with efforts to recruit more staff still to kick in, according to Ofsted.

Inspectors from the standards watchdog were back almost exactly a year after describing the department as ‘requiring improvement’.

In a ‘focussed visit’ on 17th July that looked at the arrangements for children in need and those subject to a child protection plan, inspectors acknowledged the progress made since the children’s services department as a whole was heavily criticised.

They said the focus on reducing the numbers of agency staff, along with recruitment of a significant number of social workers, had been successful.

But that it had not yet achieved the desired goal of reducing caseloads to the local authority’s target of 15 per worker, and that pressure to manage overly high caseloads remained evident.

The number of cases per social worker was in the mid 20s, according to Ofsted.

Around 30 new social workers are due to start in September, which the report noted would assist in reducing caseloads further, although concern was expressed that the department’s staffing profile would be weighted by a high ratio of relatively inexperienced social workers.

Inspectors also said that supervision of staff was not consistently good and some, particularly the newly qualified or relatively inexperienced, were not always benefiting from ‘considered discussion of casework and being able to reflect on what is good practice’.

A significant rise of up to 20 per cent in the numbers of children subject to a child protection plan in the last 12 months was also noted by inspectors.

Senior managers are said to have undertaken work to understand the reasons for this, and have identified that, in a few instances, staff had been too cautious and that a child in need plan would have been the more appropriate response.

The visit by inspectors last month saw them scrutinise a range of evidence, including case discussions with social workers and looking at performance management and quality assurance information.

In July last year, Ofsted drew up 11 recommendations and while it acknowledged progress had been made since the downgrading from its previous ‘good’ rating, it will remain rated as ‘requiring improvement’ until the next full inspection of the department, which is expected to be sometime next year.

Cllr Jeff Morgan, Warwickshire County Council’s portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “The report is positive and it recognises the steps we have taken to develop good practice that puts the needs of children and families at the heart of all we do.

“We accept that our caseloads are currently high but expect to see a marked difference when around 30 new colleagues join the authority in the autumn. Warwickshire is a great place to work — we offer good opportunities for staff development in teams that strive to achieve good outcomes for families.

“We have taken steps to build a strong and resilient workforce with permanent employees, who take a consistent approach and build relationships with families and other agencies and we have robust plans in place to ensure people benefit from effective frontline support.”

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