HALTON council’s children’s services department has been ordered to improve after government inspectors uncovered a list of failings.

The department had already been judged to require improvement following an Ofsted inspection in March last year,.

But a subsequent inspection by the government watchdog published this week found there had since been a deterioration in the quality of social work practice for children in need of help and protection.

On their most recent visit, which took place across two days in October, Ofsted inspectors identified what they called ‘significant weaknesses’ in social work practice and shortfalls in management oversight and supervision that they said had ‘failed to safeguard and promote children’s welfare’.

A letter to the council said senior managers had reported a high prevalence of neglect in Halton but that there was currently no clear and consistent approach to managing the situation

The report found:

  • Too many children are living in situations where there is unassessed risk and there are delays in taking timely action to reduce risk.
  • There had been problems recruiting and retaining staff, which had led to higher and more demanding caseloads.
  • Children are not visited in line with assessed risk or changes in their circumstances. Most visits were not purposeful and work to understand children’s experiences and test the impact of plans was absent.
  • Processes were not allowing managers to have a clear line of sight to frontline practice, which meant they were not aware of the extent of the shortfalls and what it meant for children.
  • There was a lack of clear contingency planning, which meant that parents did not understand what would happen if progress was not made.
  • Social workers described feeling overwhelmed by the high demands of their caseloads.
  • Social workers said that although they were regularly supervised, the quality was ‘highly inconsistent’ and mostly lacked reflection on understanding the impact that interventions were having on children’s lives.
  • Assessments were not dynamic and not updated following significant events, which meant risks for some children remained unassessed.
  • Children and families experienced delays in accessing the help and support they needed because the quality and impact of plans and planning was mostly poor.
  • When children’s circumstances did not improve, there was not always a timely escalation into pre-proceedings, leaving some children in risky situations for too long.
  • For children who are privately fostered, assessments did not sufficiently consider how carers could meet their needs, and necessary checks to ensure placements were safe were not always completed.

The council has been told it has 70 days to come up with an action plan to improve.