Services for children in Barnet are good, and much improved from the services that were found to be inadequate in 2017, according to Ofsted.
Leaders and managers have made purposeful progress, at pace, to establish a child-focused service that is delivering good outcomes, the inspection report said. The executive director and his team, together with strong corporate support, have ensured a focus on continuous improvement. This is underpinned by a clear oversight of practice and comprehensive knowledge of the service.
"Strong partnerships have led to an effective and well-integrated early help service. Children who need help and protection now receive help and support that is timely and of good quality. Assessments and plans show careful consideration of the views of children and their families," said the report.
Ofsted rated Barnet as good in all areas and for overall effectiveness.
In terms of the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, the report highlighted:
- Children and their families benefit from a good early help offer and have access to a broad range of preventive and targeted services.
- Partners have a good understanding of thresholds when making referrals.
- Timely strategy discussions take place when children’s needs escalate.
- Staff take effective action to reduce risks to children who are considered to be highly vulnerable and at risk of exploitation, including children missing from home, school or care.
- The vast majority of assessments are timely, comprehensive and of good quality.
- Most child protection and child in need plans are realistic and identify clear desired outcomes, making it easy for parents and children to understand any concerns.
- Disabled children benefit from strong service provision.
- Although the number of children and young people known to be at risk of radicalisation is relatively low, a clear process helps to ensure that they are protected.
Relating to the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, inspectors highlighted:
- When children come into care, they receive effective and sensitive intervention. This includes unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, who receive a strong, supportive and quick response to meet their needs.
- When risks increase and children are no longer able to live safely at home, statutory powers are used appropriately to safeguard and protect them.
- Adoption is routinely considered, including ‘foster to adopt’ for those children unable to live with their birth or extended families.
- Assessments for children placed with family members under special guardianship arrangements are timely and comprehensively explore the motivation and ability of carers to meet the needs of children until maturity.
- Social workers know their children well and genuinely care about them.
- The majority of children’s care plans are clear, focused on the key areas of need for children and include realistic actions and timescales.
- Social workers recognise and respond well to children in care who are vulnerable to exploitation. This includes identifying inter-dependencies of risks from sexual exploitation, missing from care, radicalisation and criminal exploitation.
- Children in care placed outside of the local authority are well supported and have appropriate access to relevant health and education provision.
- The multi-agency high-risk case forum for care leavers is well supported by partner agencies and explores creative ways to engage vulnerable young people with multi-agency services.
However, the report noted that a small number of children have experienced too many placement moves before a long-term match with suitable carers is made. Increasing use is made of early placement stability meetings when there is a danger of disruption, with specific support given to both carers and children. This is beginning to have a positive impact.
It adds that very few children and young people have support from an independent visitor. The service has been recommissioned recently, with an increased recruitment target, but this is yet to have an impact.
Regarding the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, the report stated:
- Leaders and managers have made significant progress in improving the quality of children’s services since the previous inspection in 2017.
- Senior managers know the quality of frontline practice well, including the strengths and areas requiring further improvement.
- Since the previous inspection in 2017, leaders and senior managers have embraced their role as corporate parents and have applied vigour in progressing an action plan to improve the lives of children in care and care leavers.
- There is a clear and established system of audits underpinning the quality assurance process.
- Staff are both tenacious and thoughtful in their work, showing a strong commitment to the delivery of good services to children. Inspectors saw examples where workers went the extra mile to ensure that vulnerable children are supported well in whatever circumstances they find themselves.
"Staff have manageable caseloads and senior managers have worked hard to ensure that social workers maintain a consistent relationship with children. While supervision of frontline practice is not always consistently recorded in children’s records, the majority of work with children receives effective frontline management oversight," the report concluded.
Ofsted recommends the incorporation of actions from the vulnerable adolescents at risk panel (VARP) and exploitation strategy meetings into child in need and child protection plans. Barnet should also work on updating of assessments of need when circumstances change for children in care.
The incorporation of outcomes from multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs) into child in need and child protection plans needs improvement and Barnet should promote advocacy support for children in care.