Devon County Council has recently made purposeful and well-targeted progress in improving services for its care leavers, an Ofsted report has revealed.
A focused visit of the authority's children's services which focused predominantly on services for care leavers found corporate parenting is now a key strength in Devon. Arrangements to ensure that care leavers access education, employment and training have been strengthened through the appointment and work of the virtual headteacher.
"Senior leaders have good awareness of the key strengths and weaknesses in the service. Improvement measures, implemented and monitored across the service, are now contributing to better outcomes for care leavers in most aspects of their lives," said the report.
The chief officer and her team acknowledge that the service historically lacked a culture of challenge and professional accountability, and they are working to embed the use of performance information and quality assurance processes.
Social workers and personal advisers were also praised for being highly committed to supporting care leavers, and their passion and dedication are greatly appreciated by young people.
"Arrangements to keep in touch with care leavers have significantly improved since the last inspection, and Devon is now in touch with 92% of its care leavers. Social workers and personal advisers demonstrate sustained and persistent attempts to engage young people and to monitor effectively their safety and welfare," the report added.
- Safeguarding risks to care leavers, including sexual exploitation, are routinely identified by social workers and personal advisers, acted upon swiftly and escalated to multi-agency meetings appropriately.
- Arrangements to monitor young people who go missing have improved.
- Care leavers receive timely support to start preparing for independence and are well supported through a range of commissioned and in-house services.
- Senior leaders have ensured that the health needs of care leavers have been prioritised since the findings of the last inspection.
- The use of ‘staying put’ with former foster carers is well promoted.
- Senior managers have considerably strengthened arrangements to ensure that care leavers have access to sufficient, suitable and safe accommodation.
- The level of support and expertise offered to unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people in Devon is a strength.
Caseloads have reduced overall since the last inspection. However, while social workers describe manageable caseloads, personal advisers report that the high number of young people allocated to them adversely affects their ability to complete timely case recording.
Senior leaders have prioritised staff recruitment and retention effectively through a revised and strengthened employment package. Workforce stability across the service has improved significantly and while there is some use of agency staff, this is very limited.
Workforce development has been a key area for development for senior leaders, and the delivery of high-quality training is now supported by a clear and revised learning and development framework.
However, pathway plans continue to be too variable in quality and timeliness. Pathway plans are not routinely updated following significant events or changes in circumstances for the young person. Ofsted said this needs addressing.
Further, quality assurance arrangements in the care leavers’ service are underdeveloped and Ofsted said this should be prioritised in order to improve social work practice.
Devon children's services should also work on the quality and timeliness of return home interviews when young people go missing, improve the range of training for personal advisers and social workers, specifically in relation to working with care leavers and focus on updating assessments of care leavers to reflect their current needs and to inform well targeted plans for young people effectively.