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Bedford's approach to permanence praised

Bedford children's services clearly understands the significance and importance of permanence and what it means for children, Ofsted has said.
Inspectors carried out a focused visit of the authority looking at planning and achieving permanence for children, whether by way of adoption, living with family or friends under the terms of a special guardianship order, long-term fostering or residential care, or children returning to live with their birth families.
"A strong sense of corporate responsibility and a well-developed approach to permanence planning at every stage of the child’s journey are having a positive impact on the experiences and progress of children in care. Permanence planning for unborn babies, particularly those whose parents have previously had children removed from their care, has been significantly strengthened. Adoption performance remains strong. Long-term placement stability has improved," said the report.
Senior leaders are visible, active and engaged with frontline practice which enables social work to flourish and staff feel supported and adequately challenged. The stability of the workforce has also improved.
While there are clearly some areas for further development, senior leaders know what they are and have plans to address them.
Inspectors highlighted:
- The local authority's approach to permanence is is hard-headed, realistic, based on clear values and principles, informed by research and always subject to an appropriate degree of management scrutiny and critical challenge.
- The permanency tracking panel has had a significant impact on the way that social workers think about, and plan their work with, children and families.
- The adoption team continues to go from strength to strength, as evidenced by the number, age and characteristics of children who have been and are being adopted, the level of post-adoption support provided and the absence of any placement breakdowns in the last four years.
- Managers and staff are creative, energetic and persistent in trying to find the right solution for each individual and/or group of brothers and sisters, in whatever form or combination that might take, subject of course to rigorous together or apart assessments.
- Permanence planning for unborn babies, particularly where children have previously been removed from their parents’ care, has been significantly strengthened.
- Senior leaders are making good use of performance management information, including a range of well-developed tracking tools, to monitor progress and resolve difficulties that get in the way of children being able to achieve permanence in a timely way.
- The local authority takes the physical and mental health, and emotional wellbeing, of children in care very seriously.
- The quality of life-story work with children living with special guardians or in long-term foster placements, as well as those whose permanence plan involves adoption, is of a very high standard.
- Child care plans are generally clear about the long-term direction of travel and provide lots of relevant background information, but, in the absence of specific and measurable outcome-focused action plans, they read more like detailed case summaries.
- Senior leaders are making good progress in their ambition to recruit and retain ‘awesome’ staff. The local authority’s investment in the professional development of its workforce, particularly in systemic practice, is starting to pay dividends, as is evidenced by increasingly strong, relationship-based practice with children, birth families and carers.
- Staff turnover and the local authority’s reliance on agency staff have reduced significantly in the last 12 months.
The report also said that Cafcass and the judiciary both spoke positively about recent improvements in pre-birth planning and about the impact on children of having a more stable group of managers and staff who are bringing the right cases to court at the right time.
Focused visit to Bedford Borough council children’s services

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