Heavy caseloads and high case worker turnover continue to drive "inconsistency" in the council's children’s services department, the education watchdog has said.

In a letter published this week, regulator Ofsted said a high turnover of social workers has led to improvements to the service being difficult to implement.

Inspectors found that while there had been "pockets" of improvement in service delivery, too many children had been subject to inconsistent practice.

Ofsted’s comments follow a monitoring visit conducted by inspectors in October, a year after the local authority was judged "inadequate" following a damning inspection after visits in October and November 2021.

The report that followed that visit said: "There are serious failures which leave too many children at risk of harm in Bury."

During Ofsted's most recent visit, inspectors reviewed five areas judged as needing improvement at the last inspection which included children in need, children subject to a child protection plan, pre-proceedings work, the impact of leaders, and the local authority’s own evaluation of its quality and performance.

Bury Times: Bury Town HallBury Town Hall (Image: Public)

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The letter, addressed to Bury's executive director of children’s services, Jeanette Richards, said that while some progress had been made, shortcomings in the service remain present.

It said: “The local authority is beginning to improve the experiences for children who are subject to child in need and child protection planning.

"This is supported by increased stability in the senior leadership team, continued corporate support and financial investment.

“However, high caseloads and too many changes in social workers are still leading to inconsistency in practice for too many children.”

Inspectors identified inconsistencies in the quality and frequency of managers’ supervision meaning that sufficient rigor was not always applied when progressing children’s plans or when challenging poorer practice.

While most children have up to date plans, these tend to vary in quality meaning children’s needs ate not always met in a timely way. Some children continue to experience too many changes in social worker.

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However, the inspection found that strategies to recruit and retain staff had been strengthened and strong political and corporate support had led to significant additional investment in the service.

The letter added: “Leaders recognise that there is much more to do to make sustainable improvements in the quality of social work practice.

“A more stable leadership team, along with the recruitment of a permanent director of social care practice, has renewed positivity among the workforces.

“Social workers and managers report that leaders now have a real focus on improving services for children.

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Concluding, the letter noted that the number of children escalated into pre-proceedings, a formal process during which the local authority considers the necessity of care proceedings, has doubled.

“This means that’s when children’s live are not improving, more children benefit from earlier decision making.

“A positive development is the introduction of the pre-proceedings plan, enabling families to have a clearer understanding of expectations.”

In response to the latest report, a council spokesperson said: "We are pleased that Ofsted have noted a number of improvements in children’s services since their initial visit.

“Inspectors found that the local authority is beginning to improve the experiences for children who are subject to child in need and child protection planning.

"They also cited increased stability in the senior leadership team and continued corporate support and financial investment into the service, which will ultimately pay dividends.

“They also noted the high caseload that our social workers have, which, allied to a high turnover in staff, is leading to inconsistency in practice for too many children.

"Councils across the land are having difficulty in recruiting social workers, and we have introduced additional incentives to encourage them to come and work in Bury. 

“There is still much for us to do to consistently improve outcomes for children and families in Bury, but Ofsted’s report shows that we are on the right path and will continue to implement improvements as quickly as possible.”