Government inspections of social workers working with children push failing teams further into decline and placed vulnerable children at risk because they spark a spiral of counterproductive reforms, according to a damning review to be published this week.
The critical report will say the Ofsted inspection regime, designed to check that children’s services are fit for purpose, is “outdated”, “one-dimensional” and condemns entire departments where only a handful of failings are found.
The report, to be published by consultancy Impower, claims that the effect of judging a whole department with a single word – “inadequate” – sets off a chain of events that makes the service much worse: the loss of senior leaders (who are often sacked), high staff turnover, reliance on temporary agency staff, higher numbers of referrals and unsustainable workloads for social workers. These factors lead to the ”most acute form of failure”.
Authored by local government expert Amanda Kelly, the study will say: “From our analysis the impact of an negative inspection serves the complete opposite purpose of protecting children. A quick glance at councils recently found to be inadequate demonstrates some stark impacts following the one-word judgment given. These include an increase in work volumes of up to 50 per cent (in already overwhelmed organisations), a significant reduction in timeliness of intervention leaving children more unsafe, and a surge in staff turnover with the resultant use of an ever more transient and costly agency workforce.”
The stark conclusion echoes concerns raised by local government chiefs.Last year, Doncaster council’s Jo Miller wrote: “Rubbish councils are subject to ... vilification in the media and the demoralisation and exit of hard-to-recruit social workers. How does this drive improvement?”
An Ofsted spokesperson responded: “We make no apology for carrying out robust inspections of local authority services. Ofsted recognises the constraints within which social workers and their managers work, as our recent social care annual report acknowledged.”
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