Improvements still needed at Wigan Council's children's services

Ofsted's latest report on the department contains a long list of shortcomings and areas where change is needed, but acknowledges improvements have been made.
Wigan Council's children's services has room for improvement, says OfstedWigan Council's children's services has room for improvement, says Ofsted
Wigan Council's children's services has room for improvement, says Ofsted

Inspectors carried out a focused visit to look at children's services in October following a January inspection which found major problems with workload and management.

While things have got better since then, the latest report still sets out a lengthy list of improvements which are required.

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Ofsted found the provision was still inconsistent and there were criticisms of how vulnerable adolescents as well as youngsters who have disabilities or are being neglected are helped.

There were also question marks over Start Well, for families who require extra help, and how care leavers are supported.

The inspectors were more positive about how the service had handled Covid-19 and said leadership changes were clearly having an effect.

The town hall has also been struggling with rising numbers of children coming into care over the past six months.

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Ofsted said an investment of around £5m being planned is “critical”.

Wigan Council chose to focus on the positives in the report, saying progress is being made and Ofsted's findings help the department find the right way forwards.

The report said: “Additional capacity in social work teams has reduced caseloads for many staff, and the impact of this is beginning to be seen.

“However, inconsistency remains in the quality of practice and not all children receive the right level of support, particularly those experiencing chronic neglect.

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“Risks to children are not always fully explored and responses to disabled children do not consistently address their needs.

“Managers struggled to find suitable homes for all the children they care for and some children have experienced too many moves before they settle. Many young people leave care too early and not enough are in education, employment or training.

“Supervision and management oversight are not providing the support and critical challenge required to ensure that children’s plans are progressed, and drift is avoided.”

Ofsted wants improvements in planning to ensure children receive support at the right time and better responses to youngsters suffering neglect or going missing to ensure the risk of harm to them is lowered.

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The educational needs of disabled children and young people in care need better oversight, the report said.

Improvements are also needed required in provision for those leaving care.

Ofsted also found too many families moving between Start Well and social work as they struggle to engage with it, with staff described as being "too optimistic" in their view of how parents were faring.

Assessments and plans were bluntly described as “not good” in the report, while neglect is "poorly identified", according to the inspectors.

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More positively, the department did well at tracking youngsters at risk of hidden harm during the pandemic and staff engaged creatively with children in lockdown as well as ensuring they maintained relationships with people important to them.

Although the start of the council's Covid-19 response slowed improvements to children's services, reform of the department had moved forward in recent months.

However, there is an ongoing shortage of suitable accommodation for disabled youngsters in Wigan, with some children coming into the service being found places outside the borough.

Workloads for individual employees have also become more manageable and staff said they felt well supported.

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Poorly-performing agency workers in the duty service have now been replaced with newly-commissioned teams,.

There is also an appropriate plan now in place for governance of the service, the report said.

A Wigan Council spokesperson said: “Following Ofsted’s previous visit a number of improvements have already been made to children’s services, which is recognised by inspectors in the latest report.

“One of the most significant changes is the appointment of our new director of children’s services, Colette Dutton, in July.

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“Colette and the team have been working hard to understand and address the issues highlighted at the beginning of the year, while simultaneously managing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which has put additional demand on the service.

"An independent board has already been created to monitor progress and to provide additional governance.

“It is reassuring inspectors recognise the progress we’ve already made on our improvement journey and their latest report will help keep us on track to achieve our ambition to outstanding.”

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