Programme of improvement well underway for Swindon’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub

Swindon Borough Council’s plan to improve its Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) has been reinforced following a two-day focused visit by Ofsted.

Under the new national inspection framework introduced in January, two government inspectors confirmed two areas that require priority action from the Council after examining a very small number of cases during their visit.

These include improving the identification of risk so there is no delay in decision making when children are at risk of harm, and the quality of management oversight in relation to safeguarding practice.

In its letter to the Council, Ofsted recognised that “a well-targeted programme of improvement has begun” including the revision of early support for vulnerable children as well as plans to increase senior leadership capacity and management training for all managers. However, the inspectors noted that these are not yet embedded or sustained enough to ensure that the front door is providing a consistently safe, well-targeted and timely response to every child.

The programme of improvement was implemented in Swindon following a detailed review by the Council’s new Corporate Director for Children’s Services, due to the pressures on the service. In recognition of the challenges facing the service the Council’s Cabinet in February approved funding of £7.5m over the next two years to allow the service to deal with the current pressures and put arrangements in place so it becomes financially sustainable in the longer term.

The investment will enable the service to strengthen frontline management to improve supervision, management oversight and support for teams. It will also be used to help reduce caseloads to ensure the correct levels of staff and management are in place so children’s case work is managed robustly to improve practice and ensure interventions are timely and appropriate.

The Council has been proactive in seeking support from other local authorities, including Essex County Council, which has been recognised as one of eight Local Authority Partners in Practice by the Department for Education, tasked with providing help to vulnerable children across the country. The Council is also being supported by the Local Government Association’s regional children’s services advisor.

An increase in demand for Children’s Social Care services is having a negative impact on the effectiveness of the MASH.

Nationally every 49 seconds a child is taken into care and, in Swindon, the number of children in care has increased by a third from 252 in March 2014 to 359 at the end of March this year. These figures put Swindon above the national average and those of comparable local authorities.

Caseload levels have been 50 per cent higher than expected within the Assessment and Child Protection Team, which, in turn, is putting pressure on management oversight and accountability, consistent practice and budgets.

Cllr Mary Martin, Swindon Borough Council’s new Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “Although this is not a full Ofsted inspection and there is no overall judgement, the findings of this two-day focused visit are helpful as we focus on improving this vital part of the service. The issues raised were highlighted in our own detailed review and diagnostic of the service and we welcome Ofsted’s input and will act on their assessment that the resulting changes are not yet embedded.

“We are already working extremely hard to bring sustained improvement to the way the MASH operates and I am pleased Ofsted has highlighted that we have strong corporate support and have a thorough action plan in place, recognising that such improvement programmes take time to ingrain within the organisation.

“With record numbers of children in care, both nationally and locally, the Council is facing a huge challenge, but we have made great strides in recent months. The Local Government Association has recently pointed to a £12bn black hole in Children’s Services funding and we have taken action by investing significantly in the service so we bring about the necessary improvements to deliver on our mission statement of ‘One Children’s Service which is Consistently Good Every Day’.”