INSPECTORS have found improvements in Slough Council’s children’s services, but say the situation remains “fragile”.

Ofsted released a broadly positive report on Slough Children First Limited (SCFL), a children’s service wholly owned by the council since April last year, following an inspection on January 18, 2022.

Inspectors Amanda Maxwell and Maire Atherton visit focused on the ‘front door’ service, which is the first initial contact in relation to children and child protection concerns.

The children’s service was once independent under a different name after it was rated ‘inadequate’ by damning Ofsted reports, leading the Department for Education to intervene in 2015.

But since becoming wholly owned by the council, the inspectors found relationships between SCFL and the local authority have improved, facilitating an integration of services that support children and families.

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Systems with the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), which enables the sharing of information between services so risks to children can be identified at an early stage, were found to be “effective” and are helping to keep children safe.

A “significant shift” in the culture within the organisation has caused partnerships with police and health agencies to “strengthen”.

The quality of assessments is “improving” but oversight of children in need practice is “not as robust” within the assessment teams. Ofsted recommended management oversight within this team needed to be improved to ensure risk to all children is assessed when their circumstances change.

The inspectors were concerned SCFL does not have enough staff to keep up with the high caseloads within early help, safeguarding, and family support, keeping the service’s situation “fragile”.

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The report stated: “This means that some families wait too long to receive support when their needs are assessed as requiring early help targeted support. Similarly, not all children’s plans are progressed quickly enough.”

This also caused delays in some interventions, starting with children whose needs are assessed as less urgent.

Interim SCFL chief executive and director of children’s services, Andrew Fraser, said at February’s cabinet meeting they are implementing a range of strategies to attract experienced and qualified social workers both domestically and overseas as well as rely less on agency staff.

Leaders have a “good understanding” of the service and have plans in place to ensure more coordination between early help and social work support.

Although vacancies have added additional demand on staff, inspectors found workers were “positive” throughout the visit and “demonstrated enthusiasm and commitment to children”.