Significant progress has been made in many areas of children’s services in Dudley since the last inspection in 2016, according to Ofsted.
The inspectorate said effective work by senior management and staff, together with commitment and investment by political leaders, has led to improved responses to the needs of children and families. As a result, outcomes for many children and their families are better.
The report said: "A recognition of the importance of preventative services and considerable joint work with partners has meant that children and families benefit from an effective early help service. If their needs escalate, children receive a considered and timely response from social care."
However, some challenges remain, and there are areas of service that require further improvement:
- A high turnover of staff has had a detrimental impact on the quality of practice, particularly in assessment teams.
- Plans for children in need or at risk do not always clearly state what actions need to be taken and within what timeframe.
- Not all young people who are homeless receive assessments that include the possibility of care by the local authority.
- Some young people have remained in care for longer than they should.
- Social workers are not always benefiting from supportive supervision and the opportunity to reflect on complex work.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families and the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers were both rated as good. The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection and overall effectiveness were graded as 'requires improvement to be good' by the inspectorate.
In terms of the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, Ofsted noted:
There is a well-developed early help offer in Dudley that offers effective services to children and families.
- Families with more complex needs benefit from timely decision-making in the multi-agency safeguarding hub.
- Strategy discussions in assessment teams are not of such good quality as those seen in the MASH.
- Children living with domestic abuse receive a prompt and appropriate response, with a range of support offered to victims and perpetrators.
- Social work practice in the disability team is a strength, with effective multi-agency work in progressing plans.
Regarding the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, inspectors highlighted:
- Appropriate and timely decisions are made for most children to come into care in Dudley local authority when they can no longer live with their families safely.
- Most children are placed in suitable permanent placements at the earliest opportunity.
- Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) are supported well and are appropriately accommodated under section 20 arrangements.
- Life-story books compiled by a dedicated life worker in the adoption service are of a high standard.
- Children entering care do not receive timely initial heath assessments.
- Too many children unnecessarily remain on care orders at home, some for periods of many years.
- The adoption service is a strength and children are considered for adoption at the earliest opportunity.
In relation to the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, the report found:
- The workforce profile remains fragile, with high numbers of agency workers, although some have worked for the local authority for a long time.
- The local authority has developed a quality assurance system and performance information database which now enables it to measure and track practice and performance with greater accuracy.
- Strategic partnerships are strong.
- The local authority and partners have been responsive to the risks associated with criminal exploitation, gang affiliations and serious youth violence.
- Corporate parenting has been strengthened.
The inspectorate recommends that Dudley concentrates on the timeliness of strategy meetings in assessment teams and ensures that all relevant partnership members attend and contribute. Furthermore, children in need and child protection plans should have clear timescales for progress to be made and that these are readily understandable by parents and carers.
When children go missing, they should all be offered and receive a timely return home interview. When young people present as homeless, careful consideration should be given as to whether they should come into the care of the local authority and that young people should be clearly told about this option.
The timeliness of initial health reviews needs work to support young people’s health needs when they come into care and personal education plans should better reflect the voice of the young person and their progress and needs in education.
Finally, Ofsted recommends that the virtual school’s ability to evaluate the effectiveness of its work should be improved and should ensure that it has consistent leadership to undertake that work.