Slough’s children’s service improves but remains ‘fragile’
INSPECTORS have found improvements in services for children at Slough Council but say the situation remains ‘fragile’.
Ofsted has issued an overall positive report on Slough Children First Limited (SCFL), a children’s service wholly owned by the council since April last year, following an inspection on January 18, 2022.
The visit by Inspectors Amanda Maxwell and Mayor Atherton focused on the “gateway” service, which is the first initial contact for children and child protection issues.
The children’s service was once independent under a different name after it was deemed ‘inadequate’ by damning Ofsted reports, leading the Department for Education to intervene in 2015.
But since becoming wholly council-owned, inspectors have found that relations between SCFL and the local authority have improved, facilitating an integration of services that support children and families.
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Systems with the Multi-Agency Safeguards Center (MASH), which enables information sharing between services so that risks to children can be identified at an early stage, have proven to be ‘effective’ and help to ensure the child safety.
A “significant change” in the culture within the organization has resulted in the “strengthening” of partnerships with police and health agencies.
The quality of assessments is ‘improving’, but monitoring of children in need is ‘not as strong’ within assessment teams. Ofsted recommended that management oversight within this team be improved to ensure the risk to all children is assessed when their circumstances change.
Inspectors feared that the SCFL did not have enough staff to cope with the high workloads of early help, protection and family support, which would keep the situation of the service “fragile”.
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The report states: “This means that some families are waiting too long to receive help when their needs are assessed as requiring targeted early help. Likewise, not all of the children’s plans progress fast enough.
It has also caused delays in some interventions, starting with children whose needs are assessed as less urgent.
SCFL Acting Chief Executive and Director of Children’s Services Andrew Fraser told the February cabinet meeting that they were implementing a range of strategies to attract experienced and qualified social workers both at the country and abroad, as well as to rely less on agency staff.
Leaders have a “good understanding” of the service and have plans in place to ensure better coordination between early help and social work support.
Although the vacancies added additional demand to staff, inspectors found that workers were ‘positive’ throughout the visit and ‘showed enthusiasm and commitment to the children’.