Ofsted has today (19/7/19) published its findings on its second monitoring visit since Brighter Futures for Children took over children’s services from Reading Borough Council in December 2018. It was their ninth monitoring visit since children’s services were rated inadequate in 2016.

Link to Ofsted monitoring visit report

Inspectors visited on June 26-27. They reviewed the progress made in the area of help and protection, particularly the work carried out in the Family Intervention Teams (FIT), the Children and Young People’s Disability Team (CYPDT) and the Access and Assessment teams (A&A). Inspectors focused on children who are the subject of child protection and child in need plans.

The main findings were that, although there have been some improvements in the service, for example in the Children and Young People Disability team, the progress is slow, uneven and, when made, not always sustained.

Eleni Ioannides, interim Director of Children’s Services, said: ‘Brighter Futures for Children is at the very start of its journey and this report is an accurate reflection of the situation we have inherited.

‘There is a huge amount of work to be done to improve children’s social care in Reading and, even though we have made great strides since we took over in December 2018, it is too early in our journey for new improvements to show.

‘However, there is no getting away from the fact that the lack of permanent children’s social workers is impacting on our ability to make sustained improvements.

‘This is a nationwide issue, felt more acutely by all children’s services near to London, where social workers can attract higher salaries. It isn’t helped by the high cost of housing and living in Berkshire which, again, impacts on our recruitment success.

‘The positive news is that we have eight ‘home grown’ social workers who will qualify next week and will be able to take on more cases, we have several permanent social workers starting with us and a few who have converted from agency to permanent, which shows we are an employer of choice.

‘We have also embarked on a targeted recruitment campaign with a new recruitment agency which will specialise in finding permanent social workers. It is already attracting social workers to us. This is our key priority.

‘Ofsted acknowledged the work we have done to improve performance management data and the accuracy of the audits we have carried out, which have helped us identify the areas where we need to improve and steps are already being taken to do so, although it’s too early for these to show in monitoring visits.’

The 171 unallocated cases were, as indicated in the report, at a particular moment in time when five social workers left in quick succession. The situation was dealt with swiftly, extra resources were put in and colleagues from across the service stepped in to ensure all children were seen and that there was oversight of cases.  Within a short space of time, additional staff were employed and the number of unallocated cases fell to zero.

We must stress that, at no point, were any children left unsafe.

Ofsted inspectors recognised improvements we have made in the quality of assessments, in effective multi-agency involvement, and in the creative direct work we undertake with children, which is very positive.  We now need to work to ensure that the best of our practice becomes more commonly and consistently the standard that everyone can expect.

Delays in court proceedings work has been addressed by a thorough business analysis of the current state and new processes have been mapped for implementation. This change will take time to embed and to show as an improvement but the issues have been identified and tackled.

Tony Kildare, Brighter Futures for Children’s Managing Director, said: ‘We have robust action plans in place to tackle all the known issues.

‘We recognise that we have a long improvement journey ahead to better the services we offer to the children of Reading but we are determined to succeed and to make sustainable, positive changes. It will take time but we are adamant we can deliver.

‘Recruitment and retention remains our biggest issue and we’re really pleased that our permanent recruitment activity is now under way.  Continuity of social care and creating trust with the children and young people we are here to serve is at the very heart of a social worker’s role, though until something is done nationally to address the discrepancy between the amount agency social workers can earn compared to their permanent counterparts, this will continue to be an issue, just as it is in other not-for-profit and public sectors, such as the NHS.

‘In other areas of children’s services we manage, there have been significant achievements since December. Our two children’s homes are now both ‘Outstanding’, we have made great strides in implementing the education strategy, we have been complimented by Ofsted on our work in schools, and we continue to improve our Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) service, which was recognised by Ofsted in their comments on the work of our Children and Young Person’s Disability team.

‘In addition, the 28 projects being run under our Transformation Programme are starting to show real results, particularly in early help, where our new pre-birth and reunification teams are making a positive difference to children, young people and families in Reading.

‘We are not making excuses. There is much work to be done to rectify the state of children’s social care as we inherited it in December, but we are determined, passionate and firmly believe that our improvement journey has begun.

Cllr Liz Terry, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Councillor for Children’s Services, said: “It is clear from the latest Ofsted letter that while progress is being made in Reading’s Children’s Services it is not happening quickly enough.

“The nationwide problem of social worker recruitment continues to be a significant barrier in the service’s ability to deliver the improvements required. It is a difficult problem, felt most severely in the South East, and I look forward to seeing some positive results from Brighter Futures for Children’s new recruitment campaign.

“I had hoped establishing the new company would be a fresh start, with progress being made more quickly. I am disappointed this is not yet the case but in the meantime the Council will continue to support BFfC as they strive to provide the best possible children’s services for families in Reading.”