Inspectors have praised the care being given to vulnerable children by social workers in Oldham, despite disruption and pressures caused by the pandemic.
A focused visit to Oldham’s children’s services by Ofsted examined the arrangements for children in need, including those who are subject to a child protection plan.
An inspection team made up of Lorna Schlechte and Rebecca Quested said that social work in the borough is ‘often purposeful and makes a difference to vulnerable children’s lives’.
“Children benefit from an effective range of support and services, despite the continued disruption caused by high rates of COVID-19 across the borough,” they said.
However they also highlighted some areas of improvement, including the consistent quality of plans and the frequency of formal supervision.
Ofsted noted the ‘extremely high’ rate of Covid-19 infections in Oldham during the pandemic, which had led to additional lockdowns and restrictions.
This had caused ‘significant’ disruption to children’s education, and resulted in a rise in referrals for domestic abuse, neglect and mental health concerns.
Despite the pandemic, children in Oldham are ‘regularly met by social workers who know them well’, inspectors said.
“Social workers consider historical risk factors appropriately and gain information from partner agencies to build up a picture of children’s lives,” the report states.
“The wishes and feelings of children are sensitively considered alongside their individual characteristics and cultural identities.
“When children are at risk of harm, risk is recognised and there is a timely response, although children’s plans are of variable quality. ”
However where children are subject to child protection plans, Ofsted says there is now more ‘appropriate’ oversight of progress and challenge about shortfalls in practice.
Reviews of plans are now carried out after 18 months to ensure closer scrutiny of the work being undertaken with the most vulnerable families.
Inspectors also welcomed additional funding being channelled into children’s services to make improvements.
“There continues to be significant financial investment in the children’s social care workforce to increase capacity in response to increased demand experienced throughout the pandemic,” they said.
This has seen an additional 15 agency social workers, two child conference chairs, a second frontline team in children with complex and additional needs service, and two workers to address the ‘very high’ levels of domestic abuse in the borough.
This has seen caseloads reduced, although Ofsted says that senior leaders are ‘transparent’ about the needs to reduce caseloads further and recruit more permanent staff.
Cabinet member for children and young people, Councillor Eddie Moores said: “We have a committed team who work tirelessly to continually improve how we protect our young people in Oldham and I’m glad that this new report shows we’re heading in the right direction.
“Despite the difficulties Covid-19 has brought we’ve maintained focused on keeping children safe whilst also improving the quality of social work practice in Oldham.
“This report has shown that our work has been making a real difference to children’s lives and that reflects how far we’ve come as a service.”
He added: “We know more work needs to be done to ensure we maintain a consistently high quality of practice across social care and plans are in place to address this.
“We’ve seen an increased demand on our services during the Covid-19 pandemic and we’re investing heavily in our social care workforce so we can meet that demand.
“I’ve offered my heartfelt thanks to our brilliant social workers for achieving the high standards of care that have been shown.
“Work will continue so we can improve where we need to and maintain where we are already doing well so that we can ensure every young person in Oldham gets the best possible start in life.”