Children’s services in Northamptonshire are steadily improving but still some way off being adequate, the county council has said.
Heather Smith, deputy leader of Northamptonshire County Council, said on Friday that the authority still had too many social workers from employment agencies and that there were too many referrals to social services from partner organisations, such as the police and schools.
Her comments came just over a year after Ofsted branded arrangements for the protection of children in Northamptonshire as ‘inadequate’ following an inspection in early 2013.
Since then, the county council says it has implemented a number of changes and is launching an academy later this year to provide a year-long intensive training and support programme for newly-qualified social workers.
Heather Smith, county council deputy leader, said: “There is a long way to go but I am pleased to say we have received positive feedback.”
Mrs Smith said a continuing problem was that social services were getting too many referrals which did not meet the criteria for the involvement of social services.
She added: “We need to identify families having problems earlier so we can give them the help and support they need to stop issues escalating.”
The county council says referrals into the social care system have increased by 39 per cent in the last 12 months compared to the previous year.
Alex Hopkins, director of children, families and education at the authority, said this could be because of nervousness from partner agencies following the Ofsted inspection last year.
He added: “There have been referrals of cases which don’t need social service involvement.
“We have to build confidence in our partners that their first response does not have to be social services.
“They need to ask themselves ‘what support can we put in?’.”
The council says about 40 per cent of social workers, of whom there are about 360 in the county, were agency staff – and efforts are being made to reduce this percentage.
Mr Hopkins said: “There are advantages to having permanent staff in position. The first is commitment, the second is that agency staff may move with a small notice period and also the cost of hiring agency staff is approximately two times as much as having permanent workers.”
Mrs Smith said she did not expect the authority to get to a ‘good’ Ofsted rating in the next year.
She added: “That would be unbelievable. I think it is more likely that we will be at the level above inadequate, which is ‘requires improvement’.”