An Ofsted report has found Sandwell Council's Children's Services Department to be "inadequate."
The trouble with the report is that it is concerned with process rather than outcomes. None of the warped ideological bigotry, which constitutes orthodox opinion in children's services departments, is really challenged. Instead we discover that the social workers are hopeless with their paperwork.
Records can be held in three places and leads to delays in some important documents not being placed on the correct part of the system and therefore not being readily accessible. Gaps in recording were identified by inspectors tracking cases.
Examples were seen by inspectors where children had been allocated to a substantive social worker for a prolonged period, yet this Sandwell Council Inspection of looked after children services had not resulted in the completion of a care or pathway plan, despite the case having been reviewed sometimes more than once, and the social worker being regularly supervised.
There was the problem, not unique to Sandwell, of a child's social worker leaving, and thus a Kafkaesque nightmare starting again:
Too many looked after children and young people experience frequent changes of social worker. Some examples were seen of social workers who had been allocated to looked after young people for lengthy periods and who had retained case responsibility across restructuring or promotion. However, changes of social worker too often affected the continuity of relationships, which were then often sustained by other professionals, such as experienced foster carers.
Given the appallingly bureaucratic world of fostering and adoption, the ability of social workers to cope with their administration does matter. It can make a crucial difference to the lives of the children.
The report says:
In too many cases, records of the review do not appear promptly on the child’s file. Inspectors saw delays of up to seven months. This is a serious omission, as the decisions and recommendations of reviews are the means by which the targets to deliver care plans are set and subsequently monitored and this can lead to drift and delay in care planning.
Yet deficient box ticking is not the fundamental difficulty. There are 606 children in care in Sandwell. That is far too many. It up from 575 last year. Even last year's tally was much too high. As a proportion of the numberof children in the local authority it was well above the national and West Midlands average. So why has the situation in Sandwell apparently got worse?
If children suffering neglect or abuse are being taken into care faster that is welcome. But by contrast, if they are remaining stuck in care – or bobbing back and forth to their abusive/neglectful heroin addict mothers – rather than being placed for adoption that is profoundly unwelcome.
Ofsted's report didn't seem to cover this – it made a passing reference to the fact that the numbers placed for adoption were "high." But this was left as a vague assertion. I suspect there are a scandalously large number of children in Sandwell who could and should be placed for adoption, but who remain trapped in the care system.
In some ways Ofsted is still encouraging flawed policies:
A number of children from black and minority ethnic origins have been matched with culturally appropriate carers on the basis of a sound assessment of their cultural needs.
"Cultural needs" covers a manifold of sins. It could mean not just that a black child can only be adopted by a black couple but that also a child from a council estate cannot be adopted by a middle class couple. What if a middle class black couple want to adopt and there is only a black child born into a working class home? Close – but no cigar. (Although if you do smoke the odd cigar you are banned anyway.)
Did Ofsted ask how many black children were stuck in care by Sandwell Council rather than adopted by white couples? Or middle class couples? The trouble is that the Ofsted inspector is probably a social worker who agrees with all the odious, politically correct nonsense.
So we have lots or irrelevant, or perverse, criticism.
The Health and Wellbeing Strategy is predominantly health orientated.
The pledge for looked after children and young people is currently being revised. Out of thirteen looked after young people who responded in the inspection survey to a question about the pledge, 10 had not heard of it, suggesting that increased marketing of the pledge is required when it is available.
The inspection survey of looked after young people revealed that, out of 13 responses, nine looked after young people either did not know or were not sure how to get in touch with their IRO.
So the social workers will scuttle off and rewrite and publicise this vacuous, worthless "pledge" and they can rewrite their Health and Wellbeing Strategy to add some more words to the Wellbeing bit. They will try and remind the children waiting to be adopted that they can complain to their specially allocated Independent Reviewing Officer about the delay in being placed for adoption. This can then be noted and logged…
We read that:
"The Corporate Parenting Board is under review."
"The needs of looked after young people are included within the agendas of the Sandwell Safeguarding Children Board, the Children’s Strategic Partnership and the Health and Wellbeing Board."
Social workers who get on with the job rather than take time off for futile training courses are reprimanded in the report:
Social workers spoken to by inspectors reported a lack of capacity to attend training due to pressure of work. In house training is currently being reviewed and reprioritised along a model successfully
piloted, that significantly increased take-up in Adult services. This includes forums for team managers to make sure that the training on offer was the training needed and ensure buy in. However, this is work in progress and therefore it is too early to assess the impact of these changes.
"Ensure buy in?" It sounds like managers will be expected to pressurise social workers to sit through these worthless training sessions so they can tell the next Ofsted inspector how attendance is up.
For school standards, Ofsted is again distracted by process – this time the arrangements for the "Virtual Head" for children in care. But do these "virtual heads" make an effort to get children in care into the best schools? Or the "culturally appropriate" ones?
I am sure that Sandwell Council's Children's Department is inadequate. But so is the Ofsted report. There is a long way to go before the interests of children are put ahead of ideology – or that outcomes are given greater consideration than process.