OFSTED has published findings of its second inspection of Brighter Futures for Children since the organisation took over children's services from Reading Borough Council in December 2018.

It was their ninth monitoring visit since the services were rated inadequate in 2016.

The Ofsted report, published following the visit on June 26-27, says that progress remains slow and is not always sustained.

The report also highlights an issue of high staff turnover.

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It reads: "The high and sometimes sudden turnover of staff continues to have a serious impact on the progression of some children's cases."

Additionally, the report mentions delays in convening initial child protection conferences, and further delays in "following the outcomes" that these produce.

Ofsted reviewed the progress made in the area of help and protection, particularly the work carried out in the Family Intervention Teams (FIT), the Children and Young People’s Disability Team (CYPDT) and the Access and Assessment teams (A&A).

The report says: "In common with previous monitoring visits, this visit has highlighted a recurring pattern of staff being recruited and then leaving relatively quickly.

"At the time of this visit, one of the two permanent members of the senior leadership team, the deputy director, who has been in post since November 2018, had resigned.

"Despite the immediate appointment of an interim deputy director and the six new temporary staff due to take up posts the week after this visit, staff morale is fragile."

Inspectors did note that there have been some improvements, for example in the Children and Young People Disability team.

Eleni Ioannides, interim director of Children's Services, said: "Brighter Futures for Children is at the very start of its journey and this report is an accurate reflection of the situation we have inherited.

"There is a huge amount of work to be done to improve children's social care in Reading and, even though we have made great strides since we took over in December 2018, it is too early in our journey for new improvements to show.

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"However, there is no getting away from the fact that the lack of permanent children's social workers is impacting on our ability to make sustained improvements.

"This is a nationwide issue, felt more acutely by all children’s services near to London, where social workers can attract higher salaries. It isn’t helped by the high cost of housing and living in Berkshire which, again, impacts on our recruitment success."

She added that the organisation now has eight 'home grown' social workers, who will qualify very shortly and be able to take on more cases.

She said: "We have also embarked on a targeted recruitment campaign with a new recruitment agency which will specialise in finding permanent social workers.

"It is already attracting social workers to us.

"This is our key priority.

"Ofsted acknowledged the work we have done to improve performance management data and the accuracy of the audits we have carried out, which have helped us identify the areas where we need to improve and steps are already being taken to do so, although it’s too early for these to show in monitoring visits."

Tony Kildare, Brighter Futures for Children’s managing director, said: "We have robust action plans in place to tackle all the known issues.

"We recognise that we have a long improvement journey ahead to better the services we offer to the children of Reading but we are determined to succeed and to make sustainable, positive changes.

"It will take time but we are adamant we can deliver.

"Recruitment and retention remains our biggest issue and we're really pleased that our permanent recruitment activity is now under way.

"Continuity of social care and creating trust with the children and young people we are here to serve is at the very heart of a social worke's role, though until something is done nationally to address the discrepancy between the amount agency social workers can earn compared to their permanent counterparts, this will continue to be an issue, just as it is in other not-for-profit and public sectors, such as the NHS."

Councillor Liz Terry, Reading Borough Council's lead councillor for Children’s Services, said: "It is clear from the latest Ofsted letter that while progress is being made in Reading’s Children’s Services it is not happening quickly enough.

"The nationwide problem of social worker recruitment continues to be a significant barrier in the service’s ability to deliver the improvements required.

"It is a difficult problem, felt most severely in the South East, and I look forward to seeing some positive results from Brighter Futures for Children’s new recruitment campaign.

"I had hoped establishing the new company would be a fresh start, with progress being made more quickly.

"I am disappointed this is not yet the case but in the meantime the council will continue to support BFfC as they strive to provide the best possible children’s services for families in Reading."