Early signs of improvement in Trafford’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services despite ‘weak management oversight’

Early signs of improvement for Trafford’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services have been limited by ‘weak management oversight’, inspectors have said.

In their latest visit to the borough, Ofsted officers found things are improving, but the service ‘remains overly focused on processes rather than children’s experiences’ and ‘the quality of practice is not improving quickly enough.’

Trafford’s children’s services were placed into special measures by the government back in 2019 after a damning report found children were being left in unsafe circumstances for too long.

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Since then, the borough has been subject to numerous visits from the social services watchdog and has been receiving specialist support from the government to try and improve the situation.

The report based on the latest visit in September 2021 stated Trafford staff are working hard to improve things and this determination hadn’t waned during the pandemic.

However, ‘instability of the workforce’ and ‘weakenesses in management oversight of frontline practice’ has limited the borough’s overall progress.

The report said: “The work reviewed during this visit showed that most children’s situations were improving as a result of the intervention taking place. Covid-19 has presented an additional barrier to implementing the cultural and organizational change that was needed to facilitate improvement in services for children.

“There remain weaknesses in the consideration of children’s identity, particularly when children are from a black or ethnic minority background.

“Risks, such as living in a home where there is domestic abuse, are clearly identified, and immediate action is taken to protect children when this is required. However, this information is not well used by social workers to evaluate what the impact is for children beyond their immediate protection and what needs to change to improve their lives.”

The reasons for children in child protection plans going missing are also not always fully understood either, even though social workers do work to talk to these children after they’re found.

Inspectors concluded: “Management oversight of work with children has increased compliance, but it is not providing enough challenge to drive improvements in the quality of work with children. It remains overly focused on processes rather than children’s experiences.

“The quality of practice is not improving quickly enough. Instability in the workforce and weak management oversight of frontline practice, including that undertaken by child protection chairs, are limiting the impact of strategic plans.”

Inspectors did state that the borough has clear plans and ambitions to continue to improve.

And since September, things have improved further still.

In its latest highlight report from January 2022, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “Trafford has continued to deliver improvement despite a significant redesign and the on-going impact of covid.

“This is a positive testament to the strength of the leadership team, corporate and political leaders, working together to deliver improvement and make a difference to children’s lives.

“Over the last reporting period it has become increasingly obvious that the culture of putting children first in everything that Trafford does is becoming embedded.”

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The borough’s children services have produced detail improvement plans for their quality of practice, leadership and management and workforce stability.

Leaders are due to gave a progress update to Trafford council’s children and young people’s scrutiny committee on Wednesday February 9.

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A spokesperson for Trafford council said: “While improvements have been and continue to be made within our Children’s Services, we recognize that there is still work to be done, as identified by Ofsted.

“Last year Trafford’s Children’s Social Care underwent a full service redesign, which took place with partners including local children and families. One of the objectives was to put in place a new and robust management structure that would enable stronger oversight and support of staff.

“The new structure went live a month after our last visit from Ofsted and is now fully embedded within the service alongside enhanced staff training and supervision. We are confident that these new arrangements will help to address the issues of management oversight identified by Ofsted, and create a framework to provide the right support at the right time for children and families in Trafford.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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