Children's Services Improvement Update - August 2020

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Improvement Update - August 2020

Supporting our Covid-19 response and recovery

Our staff in children’s services are continuing to work with partners to support the response to Covid-19 across our district and are actively involved in recovery planning.

Every effort is being made to make sure that the Coronavirus pandemic does not impact on the improvement journey, and the refreshed improvement plan takes account of the impact the pandemic has had on services and how this is being overcome.

We want to say a huge thank you to all our staff and those staff and volunteers in agencies across the district for working so hard through this unprecedented time. It has made a huge difference to the support we can give to children and families.

Front door health check

Our Front Door underwent a virtual health check on 22 and 23 July. The check was carried out by senior officers from Rotherham Council, City of York Council and Doncaster Trust. The team of reviewers collected evidence virtually. The review found some very positive strengths, in particular that:

  • Thresholds are discussed and are mostly applied appropriately
  • The continuum of need document is consistently utilised
  • Cases are progressed at an appropriate pace
  • Management oversight is evident and is becoming embedded at the beginning of contact and the final decision
  • Of the contacts and cases seen that we saw they were dealt with in a timely way and the timeliness of decision making appears to be positive
  • There are a range of partners at the front door

The health check found a number of areas that we know we need to improve on. Key to these are:

  • Ensuring that thresholds are applied consistently and staff are clear on what’s required
  • Make sure that all staff understand the early help offer and use it appropriately
  • Carry out further work to clarify with staff what are the routes into early help/social work services
  • Better utilise partners who are in the Integrated Front Door and make sure that we have the right balance of partners
  • Develop better feedback for the front door teams so they know what happens to cases once they progress and leave the front door.

Department for Education progress review

The Department for Education held a series of virtual meetings with children’s services staff and colleagues on July 28 as part of their six-month stocktake.

The DfE reported that, overall, it was presented with a positive view of progress and an improved culture within Bradford’s Children’s Services with many foundations now in place to support the pace of improvement currently expected. The positive findings included:

  • The corporate centre working closely and collaboratively with children’s services
  • Partners reporting strengthened working practices and relationships and more collaborative working
  • A stable leadership team described as inspirational by focus groups of middle managers, social workers and ASYEs.
  • Improved communications between agencies

A number of areas for improvement remain in relation to HR and IT:  

  • A robust recruitment and retention policy that will reduce reliance on agency staff
  • A supervision policy that means social workers can be challenged on practice and supported in their role
  • The recruitment of business support workers to take on time-consuming administrative duties
  • Improved practice of sickness absence
  • Better IT systems for staff, including improved access to video technology

New improvement plan

A refreshed improvement plan has now been published on the Council’s website. The plan, which has been agreed with Ofsted, is now guiding our improvement journey. This plan now includes the project-led improvement work through the four Improvement Programmes, along with Children’s Social Care-led service improvements through the new Head of Service structure and partner-led improvement work.

The four programme areas are.

  • Prevention and Early Help
  • Social Work Practice
  • Leadership and Management
  • Children in Care / Leaving Care

Within these four programmes there are 11 projects which are delivering service led improvements. However, during this period of our improvement journey we are focusing on a number of specific areas. These areas significantly impact on children and young peoples’ outcomes; quality of practice and Council budgets. These areas are:

  • Improve standards and performance of social work practice
  • Establish and maintain a stable, funded and demand led children’s social care structure which supports the needs of children, increases the number of permanent staff and reduces the reliance on agency workers over time
  • Work with our partners to develop Early Help support for children and help reduce the demand on children’s social care
  • Safely reduce the number of children in care by returning home or securing permanence
  • Improve the quality and sufficiency of placements for children in care
  • Improve the quality and use of data and intelligence to support decision making
  • Improve the functionality of case management systems to support effective practice. 

Workforce development continues

We’ve reviewed our recruitment process and developed a better co-ordinated approach that has speeded up the recruitment of new staff. Weekly recruitment continues so far the new process has seen more than 100 new staff appointed.

Work has also taken place to develop improved recruitment packs for all job roles within children social care service.

Families First exceeding target 

A lot of work has gone on with our partners to improve the numbers of families we are working with through our Families First programme. Our target for this financial year is to work with 1,017 families to help them achieve sustained improvement. A total of 330 cases have been claimed for in the April to June 2020 exceeding our target of 85 families a month. This means that we have been able to claim £264,000 (330 x £800) back from the government. This money will be reinvested to improve our Early Help support. We’re immensely grateful to all the partners who are working with us to achieve this.

Working with schools to develop Early Help

This work started in October 2019 with a pilot project of four Early Help coordinators who targeted 20 schools to help manage referrals to the Front Door that resulted in no further action. By March 2020, this had resulted in a 40% reduction in no further action referrals from these schools. Building on this success, a further eight posts were established and all had taken up their posts by the beginning of June. All Bradford schools have now been contacted, provided with a toolkit to assist with resolving low level issues and offered a range of advice and support in relation to vulnerable pupils.

To further develop and strengthen this approach a suite of documents and new pathways have developed in consultation with partners. These include: a lead practitioner handbook, an Early Help assessment and planning tool, and a multi-agency learning programme.   

Future areas of work

There are a number of important areas of work we will be focusing on in the next few months. These are:

  • Work will continue on developing training for managers on what is good supervision and a draft supervision policy has been launched. 
  • We’re working to improve the current practice around chronologies to make it more consistent. 
  • We are seeing an improvement on how the voice of the child is recorded in case files but we know we have much more to do. We will be carrying out an audit to measure impact will be undertaken in the coming months. 
  • A new assessment template is being built to help improve assessment quality and will go live soon.
  • We will be developing specific improvements to support the work we do with children with disabilities.

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