Liverpool children’s services staff ‘fatigued and overwhelmed’

Progress is being made to improve Liverpool’s children’s services amid low morale and “overwhelmed” staff experiencing fatigue.

The city council was rocked last summer by the findings of a shocking inspection by Ofsted which deemed its services for young people to be “inadequate” citing serious weaknesses that left children “being harmed or at risk of harm.” Before Christmas, education officials conducted their first inspection since a full assessment in March 2023.

While changes to bring the service up to scratch have been noted, new documents have revealed the impact it is having on staff at the local authority.

In an update report to the children and young people scrutiny committee, to be discussed next week, it is noted that there has been a “significant reduction” in social work caseloads, despite remaining above target in some teams. Additionally, it was said “evidence of momentum” can be found towards improving the quality of services.

Despite this, Alison Brown, Liverpool Council director of practice improvement and development, wrote how “significant challenges” remain within children’s services. The report said: “Morale amongst the workforce has been low for a long time and remains variable, with staff appearing overwhelmed and experiencing fatigue. 

“Workforce morale is likely to remain fragile for some time. This is characteristic with services subject to improvement and experiencing significant change management.” 

Ms Brown’s update said staff felt a “greater sense of being listened to by senior officers, with actions being taken to support improvement.”

The increased visibility of senior leaders has been “positively received” but an “expected level of scepticism” remains among the workforce, which Ms Brown’s report said was “likely to remain until they see sustainable improvements.”

Ofsted’s assessment meant the city council’s children’s services department was deemed inadequate in four out of five of the key areas – including the overall rating. Analysing the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, the education watchdog said the council had shown “insufficient prioritisation and pace in tackling critical areas necessary to enable improvement.”

Education officials were satisfied children in the city were no longer at risk of harm in their first assessment of children’s services since the damning inspection.

An independently chaired improvement board which is attended by council leader Cllr Liam Cllr Parsons, and chief executive of the council, Andrew Lewis, has been established in the aftermath of the March 2023 inspection. Former chief executive of Cheshire West and Chester Council, Gerald Meehan, has been appointed chair and set out his expectations of the board in September.

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