A dramatic turnaround has taken place within children’s services in Croydon which has gone from an Ofsted rating of inadequate in 2017 to good last week.
Services for children and their families have been transformed as a result of strong corporate and political support, substantial investment, and the appointment of highly experienced senior managers, the report said following an inspection of children’s services.
“Services for children in need of help and protection are now good, and services for children in care and care leavers are improving well. Senior managers have ensured that they are well informed about the quality of services through performance management information and directly engaging with frontline staff,” said the report.
“They are fully aware of the areas that still require improvement and demonstrate a relentless determination to deliver high-quality services to all children in Croydon. They have created an environment in which staff feel valued and enjoy working in the borough,” it added.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection are good. The report said:
- Early help is offered through a broad range of good-quality universal and targeted services.
- A vastly improved understanding of thresholds, together with co-located partners at the ‘front door’, known as the single point of contact (SPOC), means that almost all children who are at risk of harm are swiftly identified and receive the right support.
- The work of the assessment teams has been transformed by a whole-system review, additional capacity, and effective management oversight at all levels.
- Pre-proceedings activity under the public law outline has significantly improved since the last inspection.
- Children receive effective support from the out-of-hours service.
- Since the last inspection, there has been a total transformation in management oversight across all levels of work.
- The turnover of social workers has reduced, meaning that they have the opportunity to build more trusting relationships with children.
- Services for disabled children are delivered by knowledgeable, passionate social workers with high aspirations for their children.
- The investment shown in understanding the risks for adolescents is very evident.
- Children at risk of exploitation benefit from effective multi-agency information-sharing.
However, services for homeless 16- and 17-year-olds are significantly under-developed and result in poor experiences for these young people.
Child protection plans are mostly well targeted and specific, but written plans for children in need are more variable, and are not consistently timebound or outcome-focused.
Children receive effective support from the out-of-hours service. However, this is not always well recorded, and managers are aware of the need to strengthen information-sharing between the out-of-hours service and the daytime teams.
While children who go missing from home receive a timely and appropriate response, this is less consistent for children who go missing from care and care leavers.
The inspection found that the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement to be good. Inspectors noted:
- Services for children in care have improved since the inspection in 2017, and some aspects are strong. Services for care leavers are improving, although some weaknesses remain.
- Social workers work hard to enable children to remain in the care of their families. When this is not possible or appropriate, decisive action is taken.
- Arrangements to work with adolescents who are on the edge of care are well embedded and effective.
- Children are now seen regularly, and records of visits increasingly outline a purpose and focus on key aspects of the care plan.
- The emotional health needs of children in care are appropriately identified and met through a range of services, support and therapy.
- Children in care and care leavers increasingly benefit from access to a strengthened participation offer.
- The large cohort of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Croydon benefit from effective multi-agency work to ensure that their needs are assessed and responded to promptly.
- Senior managers have recently restructured and increased capacity in the commissioning and placements services to improve processes.
- Foster carers are provided with a good learning and development offer, and they are positive about the support that they receive.
- Senior managers have used the learning from the Ofsted monitoring visit in October 2019 to focus on placement stability and securing permanence for children in care in Croydon.
- A multi-agency approach, delivered through the complex adolescents panel, is ensuring more effective oversight of young people at high risk, including those
who are missing.
- When children and young people come into care, they make good progress in overcoming many of the barriers that they face in engaging with learning.
- Social workers and personal advisers in the leaving care teams are committed to the young people they work with and know them well.
The report states that social workers and independent reviewing officers (IROs) are focused on ensuring that children’s health and emotional well-being needs are met. However, case records do not consistently contain information about health appointments. The health needs of care leavers are well considered in direct work, but this is not always reflected well in plans.
Children benefit from regular reviews, and letters to children from IROs are increasingly child-focused and written in sensitive, child-friendly language.
However, this is not yet consistent. Plans for children in care are not always written so well and are template-orientated rather than providing a bespoke account of clear actions to support the child.
When children are placed out of borough, placement matching is not routinely informed by consultations with host authorities. Further work is required to ensure that notification letters to host authorities explain how the placement will meet the child’s needs.
Work on life stories and later-life letters is developing and improving. However, managers are taking steps to ensure consistency in both quality and timeliness.
Social workers and personal advisers in the leaving care teams are committed to the young people they work with and know them well. While caseloads for social workers and personal advisers in these teams have reduced since the last inspection, they remain high in this service.
The quality of pathway planning and plans for care leavers is variable. Pathway plans are not always sufficiently specific about risks and vulnerabilities. Consequently, actions to address and reduce risk and vulnerability are not prominent.
While preparation for independence takes place, Croydon does not currently have a systematic process or cohesive offer to ensure that care leavers are helped to develop their skills in preparation for adulthood and for maintaining tenancy arrangements.
Most care leavers live in suitable accommodation. However, senior managers recognise that the range and availability of this offer need to be broader.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is good. The report stated:
- Since the last judgement inspection in 2017, services for children and families in Croydon have improved dramatically. There is now a clear and determined focus on continuous improvement.
- Leaders and managers have embraced and made good use of a wide range of improvement support, including a robust improvement board, strategic partnerships and formal monitoring of progress.
- Senior managers have taken an effective, measured and considered approach to achieving change, and this has resulted in the establishment of a core sustainable infrastructure and resources to improve practice.
- Partner engagement has been re-invigorated, supported by the improvement board and the Croydon safeguarding children partnership.
- Senior managers are fully aware of the current quality of practice and are realistic about the challenges ahead - this is reflected well in their self-assessment.
- Operational management, frontline decision-making and the frequency and quality of supervision have all improved significantly.
- Performance management arrangements have been considerably strengthened since the last inspection.
- Senior managers have a detailed knowledge of their services and the local community.
- Senior managers are maintaining a sustained focus on increasing stability and capacity in the workforce. This has resulted in very positive impacts on reducing turnover and lessening the reliance on agency staff.
However, further work is needed to embed the learning from the regular quality assurance auditing programme and to inform the training and development of staff.
“Staff morale is high. Workers value the systemic model of practice, the training offer and the new culture that is being embedded. Staff report that they are well supported, and they speak very highly about managers and visible senior leaders. They report that the increasingly regular supervision helps them to meet the needs of the children that they work with,” said the report.
“Workers take a real pride in their work to meet the needs and improve the experiences and progress for children and families. Staff told inspectors that they enjoy working in Croydon,” the report concluded.
Ofsted recommends that Croydon improves the quality of written plans for children in need, children in care and care leavers.
The borough needs to address services provided to homeless 16- and 17-year-olds and services for care leavers, particularly the range of suitable accommodation, responses to emotional health needs and preparation for independence.
Placement sufficiency for children in care, and accommodation for care leavers also needs improvement.
London Borough of Croydon
Inspection of children’s social care services