Hampshire children's services have been rated as outstanding by Ofsted.
The inspection of children's services found that since the last full inspection in 2014, the director and his leadership team have resolutely focused on continuing to improve the help, care and protection provided to children.
"Social workers are highly skilled at building meaningful relationships with children, engaging them in their assessments and plans. Children in care benefit from high-quality support, which is making a real difference to their outcomes. Management oversight of practice is clear and considered, ensuring that children’s plans progress at pace.
Children’s lives consistently improve as a result of the help they receive," said the report.
Strong political and corporate support and well-targeted financial investment have helped the leadership team to implement an ambitious transformation programme. This has created the capacity, training and infrastructure to enable social workers to engage more purposefully with children and their families, it added.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection is outstanding.
- Children in need of help or protection benefit from high-quality services that improve their lives, whatever the level of their need.
- Experienced, skilled practitioners and managers, supported by highly effective systems, ensure a consistently swift and efficient response when children are referred to the multi-agency safeguarding hub.
- When children need protection, swift, proportionate and authoritative action is taken during and outside of office hours.
- Social workers are highly skilled at building and sustaining enduring relationships with children.
- Child in need and child protection plans have a strong focus on children’s needs.
- Rigorous management oversight, including the chairing of child in need meetings by managers, is central to the progression of children’s plans.
- The response of the strategic and operational partnerships to vulnerable young people at risk of exploitation is highly effective.
The report highlights that When children go missing from home or care, managers and social workers respond quickly and effectively to ensure that they are not exposed to potential harm. High-risk multi-agency strategy meetings, overseen by senior managers, are highly effective in progressing children’s plans. Not all children who go missing are offered return home interviews, and when they take place they are not always well recorded. This means that, potentially, patterns relating to episodes of going missing may not be fully understood, although inspectors found good evidence of information about children’s experiences while they are missing being shared between professionals in other ways.
The local authority recognises that the quality of safeguarding intelligence would be improved further through a more consistent return home interview offer and greater take-up of these important conversations with children after each episode of going missing.
The local authority had recognised this prior to the inspection and had acted to restructure the return home interview service.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers is outstanding.
The report highlights:
- Tenacious and creative work is undertaken to support children to safely remain in the care of their families wherever possible.
- Social workers undertake insightful direct work that is carefully tailored to children’s individual needs.
- Social workers, managers and carers ensure a strong focus on children’s health and emotional well-being.
- Children live with carers who meet their needs well and go to great lengths to improve their outcomes.
- The local authority employs a rigorous approach to assessing the needs of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children when they first arrive in Hampshire.
- As soon as children enter care, permanence is actively considered through early planning for a range of possible outcomes.
- Care leavers receive dedicated and effective support from their personal advisers (PAs), who know them very well and see them regularly.
- Through conscientious and diligent work by their PAs, care leavers are provided with practical and emotional support to make the transition to independence.
The report highlights that the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is also outstanding. It states:
- Senior and political leaders in Hampshire are ambitious, purposeful and influential. Together, and consistently over time, they have presented a coherent and shared vision to deliver high-quality services for children.
- The appointment of personal assistants to support social workers, combined with improved technology and the implementation of the strengths-based social work model, the ‘Hampshire Approach’, have equipped social workers with the tools, skills and time to work directly with children and families.
- Children’s needs and views are kept at the centre of strategic planning and decision-making.
- Comprehensive performance and quality assurance systems support leaders and managers to maintain strong oversight of practice.
- The DCS has created a culture of distributed leadership which ensures that staff at every level share accountability for tackling the challenges that the service faces and celebrate together the successes that are achieved.
- Social workers are positive about working in Hampshire. Staff find managers supportive, and value the quality of supervision they receive.
- Aspirational senior leaders promote a culture of learning and continual professional development.
However, while supervision is regular, and although social workers report that it is helpful in promoting reflection and analysis, this is not always well evidenced in recording of these discussions.
The report also states that the corporate parenting board effectively seeks to build a well-informed understanding of the experiences, concerns and achievements of children in care. The board is energetic in taking steps to ensure that all children receive good services. However, the board has not extended its membership to include partner agencies due to concerns about the impact this might have on the engagement of children in care and care leavers. While the board effectively scrutinises all the important areas of services for children in care, it does not have a systematic way of ensuring consistent collaboration with key partners, such as health services, district councils or foster carers. This dilutes its ability to ensure a joined-up response to areas for development, such as ensuring timely health assessments and delivering a more consistent approach to council tax exemption for care leavers.
Ofsted recommends that in order to improve social work practice, the proportion of children who are offered, and take up, a return home interview when they have been missing from home or care, needs to increase. The Corporate Parenting Board should improve its rigour in holding partners, including health providers and district councils, to account to ensure that they prioritise services for children and young people more effectively.
Hampshire County Council
Inspection of local authority children’s services