Children's services in Hartlepool have been rated by Ofsted as 'good' with the inspectorate praising the 'outstanding' service for children in care and care leavers.
Since the last inspection, children have received more timely and proportionate help when needs have arisen or risks have increased. Multi-agency arrangements are stronger and highly effective. Children and young people are safer, and their life chances are improving.
"Senior leaders and managers are relentless in their determination to improve children’s life experiences and life chances in the face of poverty, deprivation and adult ill-health," said the report. "They rigorously influence and coordinate policy and practice across partner agencies in order to improve outcomes for children and their families."
Despite increasing workloads, the quality and impact of practice have been maintained and, in some aspects, improved. Managers have created a vibrant workforce culture that shares and embraces this commitment.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection was rated as good and inspectors highlighted:
- Early help arrangements in Hartlepool are good.
- Effective early help is accessed via locality teams or through the children's hub (CHUB).
- Senior managers have responded positively to the increased demand for assessments.
- The quality of assessments has improved since the last inspection, particularly regarding the identification of neglect.
- The vulnerable, exploited, missing and trafficked (VEMT) approach continues to deliver a strong partnership response, particularly to vulnerable adolescents.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers was rated outstanding and inspectors highlighted:
- Children in care and care leavers receive an exceptional service: when children enter care, they are ‘cared for’ and ‘cared about’.
- High-quality social work evidence to court has resulted in most care proceedings concluding in less than 26 weeks.
- Children benefit from early permanence planning.
- Placement stability is very good and the retention of foster carers is extremely good.
- Children in care and care leavers are well supported to stay safe. Effective procedures are in place when children go missing from care or are at risk of sexual exploitation.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families was rated as good. Ofsted highlighted:
- The leadership of the council is strong, stable and effective.
- Strategic planning is much stronger since the last inspection and is well focused on local need and challenges.
- Strong cross-party political support for children’s social care services has been maintained.
Performance management is much improved.
"Social workers and managers have good access to training and development opportunities. Senior managers recognise that the provision of high-quality social work services relies on a well-trained,
supported and motivated workforce," said the report.
"The local authority invests very well in the health and well-being of staff," it added.
The quality of assessments to fully explore the impact of children’s experiences and to enable plans to be better targeted needs to improve as does the quality and consistency of case audits.
Ofsted recommends the quality of recording of management oversight by frontline managers is improved, how they challenge social work practice to improve and how they monitor progress and improvement.
Finally, the way in which independent reviewing officers (IROs) evidence the impact of scrutiny of children’s plans needs work in order to improve.