Changes needed for ‘front door’ of children’s social care

Arrangements for keeping vulnerable children safe are to be revised in Oxfordshire following a review of the county’s Multi Agency Safeguarding hub (MASH).

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The MASH is an information-sharing intelligence unit made up of staff from children’s social care, police, health services and other partners. It receives all initial enquiries relating to vulnerable children and is where decisions are made about what action to take, and by whom.

Oxfordshire was among the first parts of the country to establish a MASH following national recommendations including those of a Home office Select Committee on Child Sexual Exploitation in 2013.

However, an ongoing internal review of its performance in Oxfordshire has identified concerns over the MASH’s ability to make timely decisions on the enquiries it receives.

‘no further action’

While performance in dealing with urgent enquiries is good, the vast majority (75 per cent) of all enquiries into the Oxfordshire MASH are designated ‘no further action’ as they do not meet the criteria for further work by Children’s Social Care. Meanwhile the number of social care assessments resulting from enquiries has increased.

It is believed that Children’s Social Care can handle the less urgent enquiries in a more productive way as part of the wider remodelling of Children’s Services, which includes having workers in the community handling lower level concerns.

The county council and its partners will agree a new ‘front door’ model for Children’s Social Care, with a view to new arrangements being put in place in the Autumn, alongside the wider transformation of Children’s Services.

Issues recognised

Oxfordshire County Council’s Deputy Director of Children’s Social Care Lucy Butler said: “We had already begun a review of the MASH, alongside our partners, in anticipation of these changes. We have recognised the issues and these have been documented at regular intervals via committee reports. We are now at the stage where we believe the service needs to be significantly re-shaped and we are already working with other agencies to make this happen.

“Our priority remains keeping the most vulnerable children safe and we have a strong track-record on this. Our handling of child sexual exploitation matters also remains among the best in the country.”