Lambeth Council has been forced to use a high number of agency workers in children’s services after failing to hire permanent staff. 

But it hopes to turn this around after a recent restructure that aims to make working for the council more attractive.

In an update report since the council’s children’s social care was rated ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted – including an ‘inadequate’ rating for adoption services – it emerged Lambeth has faced significant recruitment issues because of “increasing discrepancies in pay” between it and neighbouring authorities.  

“Possibly the most significant challenge for Lambeth children’s social care over the last year is our ability to recruit and retain a permanent and highly skilled workforce, which has led to high agency usage. 

“This has been exacerbated by increasing discrepancies in pay between Lambeth and its neighbouring authorities driven by the use of recruitment and retention allowances and additional discretionary benefits.  

“This has particularly affected our children’s assessment and family support and child protection teams, which has made effectively tackling practice inconsistencies more challenging,” according to the report. 

A strategy has been developed to tackle the recruitment problem, which includes extra training, events and forums for staff, and offers better career progression, as well as advanced practitioner roles.

According to the report, in September last year, children’s social care “underwent a comprehensive restructure” to support the creation of “progression opportunities”. 

Along with the advanced practitioner roles, changes included creating specialist teams to help children stay out the care system, establishing a 16 plus leaving care service and an unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) team.  

Payments officer roles were also created to reduce the number of finance related tasks “currently being completed by social workers”. 

“Interest to date from agency social worker practitioners in new permanent positions has been high, suggesting that the restructure will support Lambeth to reduce its agency rate over the next six months,” according to the report. 

The council has also raised the percentage of children and family assessments being completed within 45 days, up from 86 per cent last year to 94 per cent “despite an increase in the number of assessments required”. 

But it has “continued to struggle” to have Initial Child Protection Conferences (ICPCs) held within 15 days of a Section 47 decision, with 51 per cent completed on time. 

An s47 enquiry is initiated to decide whether and what type of action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child “who is suspected of, or likely to be, suffering significant harm”.  

The council’s target is to hold 71 per cent of ICPCs within 15 days, according to the report.  

“This is likely to be impacted by the fact that Lambeth has both higher rates of section 47s and ICPCs than our statistical neighbours and England averages.  

“While timeliness of ICPCs remains an issue for Lambeth, there has been an increase in timeliness of ICPCs from last year from 44 per cent to 51 per cent.  

“Furthermore, the percentage of s47s leading to an ICPC has increased from 32 per cent last year to 47 per cent in the year to date suggesting that the quality of decision making/ assessment is improving. 

“This also correlates with the reduction in children becoming subject to a child protection plan for a second time, from 20.2 per cent in 18/19 to 14.4 per cent in the year to date,” it read.   

The percentage of child in need and child protection visits held on time has dipped to 52 per cent and 78 per cent respectively, which the report puts down to a high staff turnover.  

But it says a “successful recruitment drive” over the last three months “means the service is now fully staffed with permanent team managers, which we are optimistic will lead to improved performance”. 

Lambeth, now part of the Adopt London South Regional Adoption Agency, has reduced the average number of days for a child entering care and being placed for adoption by 60 per cent.  

“Action has been taken to meet the needs of all children, particularly those aged 10 and under who were yet to achieve permanency at the time of the inspection.  

“Lambeth has reduced the average number of days for a child entering care and being placed for adoption by 60 per cent from average days between child entering care and being placed for adoption from 701 days in March 2018, to 469 in March 2019 and currently averages 347 days,” according to the report, which will be discussed at a children’s services scrutiny sub-committee on Thursday (January 23).