Social worker caseloads 'remain a challenge' in Luton says new report

Social worker caseloads remain a challenge for Luton's Borough Council's children's services, as the local authority seeks to recover from an "inadequate" Ofsted rating.

Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 7:41 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 7:42 pm
Luton Town Hall

A combination of increased demand and case complexity are the central issues, according to a report to the council's scrutiny children's services review group.

"The number of staff with cases over target level is lower than at May 2020 in five of the ten teams," said the report.

"And in seven of those ten teams, the average caseload per worker is less than in May 2020.

"There are significant improvements on both counts in the children with disabilities team, the assessment service, the care leavers team and in two of the five family safeguarding areas.

"We continue to monitor demand and throughput, and use our resources to reduce caseloads."

The council aims "to maintain a caseload of no more than 18, enabling practitioners to form deep and meaningful relationships with children and families", added the report.

Its social work academy, recruitment activity and persuading temporary staff to accept permanent roles support the local authority's efforts to achieve that target.

An improvement plan with 12 priority areas was set up in response to the January 2020 Ofsted inspection, which judged the service to be inadequate.

"There has been significant progress in the past year," explained the report.

This includes:

> Launch of edge of care service;

> New performance management tools now on-stream, such as legal cases and dashboards for the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH);

> Sustained improvement on a range of key performance indicators;

> EYES (one child, one system) project business case agreed by executive;

> New practice framework co-produced with staff has been launched;

> Foster carer offer has been reviewed and agreed.

Service director of quality and improvement, Damian Elcock, told a review group meeting that "early benefits" are being seen already.

"We've prevented two young people from having to go into high cost placements, enabling them to remain at home with families and with intensive support," he said.

"There's been sustained improvement in some of our key performance indicators, including around our visits to the most vulnerable young people, those on child protection plans and looked after children.

"That was over 99 per cent for those on child protection plans within the statutory timescale which is every four weeks.

"For our looked after population that was in the high 80s per cent, with visits every six weeks."

The council is expecting a special educational needs and disability (SEND) inspection within the next three months, according to Mr Elcock.

"A comprehensive review has been done around our foster carer offer, which allows us to be more competitive in terms of recruitment and retention," he explained.

"Ofsted were with us two days a fortnight ago, as part of a three-week process initiated on April 14th.

"The initial feedback has been very promising and we expect a draft letter with the detail of its outcomes on May 20th with publication on June 18th.

"We've an annual meeting with Ofsted on June 9th and it's been agreed we'll discuss their next visit.

"The outcome of their recent visit will decide whether it's a full inspection, which means they're confident we've made significant progress.

"Or we could have a quarterly monitoring visit to consider a specific area of our practice."