Inspectors have told Nottinghamshire County Council it must provide and record “consistent” and “purposeful” work with children and improve how it checks cases.
Education watchdog Ofsted has made a series of recommendations after visiting the authority’s children’s services department in April.
The visit, which was not classed as an official inspection, looked at the council’s arrangements for children in need or those subject to a child protection plan.
The visit itself plays no part in the department’s wider Ofsted grading, which is ‘good’ overall following a 2019 inspection.
However, the 2019 assesment did find the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection required improvement, and the April visit was made to set out any changes the council should make.
During the April visit, Ofsted inspectors found that, while children are being “supported at the right level of need”, the direction of visits is “not always sufficiently focused, time-bound or detailed”.
They also found quality of care plans are “varied” and sometimes “lack precision and do not allow for meaningful measurement of progress”.
And the inspectors said there were some “missed opportunities” to use wider family support of children to protect and help children in the authority’s care.
The authority says new standards are being drawn up to address these concerns and to improve the wider quality of care received by children in need.
Inspectors also noted that a new approach to auditing has been launched by the authority, meaning “very few” cases have been audited over the past six months.
They say auditing is not providing leaders with a “reliable line of sight” to improve support for children or to identify learning and improvements within the department.
The council says this is something it is currently working on, with 261 audits planned between now and the end of 2022.
In making recommendations for improvement, Ofsted said the authority should provide “consistent provision and recording of purposeful, direct work with children”.
It added that the department should improve the “quantity and quality of case file audits and their impact on identifying improvements” both for the benefit of its staff and for children in its care.
The council has confirmed it has an action plan to address the recommendations and improve the quality of its service.
Amanda Collinson is the council’s service director for help, care and protection.
In a report, she said: “Whilst progress has been made over the last two years … in Nottinghamshire, developing a revised set of practice standards is seen as a key step in further driving forwards consistently good practice.
“The standards are currently in draft. The coverage of the standards addresses direct work, purposefulness, child focus, family networks and the quality of plans.
“A plan for introducing and embedding the standards is being finalised and will include learning sets and the launch of a direct work toolkit.”
She adds this will “set out the minimum expectations” of good practice, create something to refer to when providing social work services and highlight the council’s priorities.
“The impact on practice, and on the experience of children and families, of introducing the revised practice standards, should be seen in quality assurance activities, including case file audits,” she added.
“In particular, we will be looking for evidence of improving the consistency of practice.”
Further work to address issues with auditing is also due to be published in January next year, including a new ‘framework’ to ensure “learning from audits are translating to actions and improvements”.
The department will carry out 261 audits by the end of December and the council hopes the quality of its social work auditing will improve further over time.
Members of the children and young people’s select committee will discuss the Ofsted recommendations on Monday, October 10 and decide whether any further action is needed.