A BOROUGH’S children’s services bosses have been warned that caseloads on social workers are too heavy.
A snap inspection by Ofsted of Blackburn with Darwen Council also warned it was too slow to act when young people suffered neglect in families.
The report of its February investigation will be discussed by the authority’s executive board on Thursday.
Since then the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown has increased pressure on borough child social workers.
Lead inspector Paula Thompson-Jones said: “While there have been improvements in some areas of service, progress remains slow in key areas of weakness identified at previous inspections.
“Leaders have recognised that, despite the local authority being judged to be good overall at the last inspection, there is significant work to do to ensure this is sustained.
“When children are at immediate or significant risk, decisions to bring them into care are made promptly and appropriately.
“However, decision-making when children are suffering neglect is too slow.
“This means that some children are left in harmful situations and plans for their future are delayed.
“Social work caseloads are too high in the assessment and support teams, which impacts on social workers’ ability to build relationships with children and understand their experiences.
“Although leaders have acted to try and reduce demand for social work services, this has not had any impact on workloads in these social work teams.
“At the point of this visit, effective interim plans to address workload pressures were not in place.”
Borough children’s services boss Jayne Ivory tells the executive board in a report that a new system of referrals had reduced social worker caseloads.
She says: “The number of open cases within children’s social care has reduced by approximately 400 compared to 12 months ago.
“We aspire to every social worker having a realistic caseload – 15 for a newly qualified social worker in their first year of practice, 22 for those fully qualified. Work is ongoing to ensure that we are actively working towards achieving this figure being the average.
“A neglect strategic action plan to address what children’s services and partners can do to work together in this area is being updated and about to be shared.
“Children subject to social work intervention under the category of neglect are being individually tracked by service leads so ensure we understand our cohort well and the offer to our children is consistent and at the correct level.”
Ms Thompson-Jones also says: “There have been improvements in the process for making decisions about children coming into care. This leads to most children being placed appropriately with carers who can meet their needs.
“Children in care have their needs met and their circumstances do improve.
“Most children live with their brothers and sisters when it is in their best interests.”
Cllr Julie Gunn, the council’s children’s services boss, said: “Coronavirus has no doubt thrown up tough challenges for the profession, but there has also been the chance for positive change.
“What has really shone through is how staff have adapted and embraced technology to complete their work.
“This new way of working has helped build better relationships with the young people they are supporting as they feel more comfortable talking on a WhatsApp video call rather than a telephone call.”
Ms Ivory said: “Our staff have access to some of the latest technology to ensure that our work has carried on, whether that’s a virtual visit or meeting. All of this has taken place alongside our regular face to face visits.”
Cllr Gunn added: “We are in the process of developing a social work recruitment and retention strategy to ensure we have a rolling programme of opportunities. From July 13 we have organised a virtual recruitment week for social work roles from newly qualified to managerial level.”