Senior leaders at the London Borough of Hounslow have worked effectively to improve children's services since the last Ofsted inspection in 2014, the inspectorate has said.
Supported by strong corporate and cross-party political support, the London Borough has a thoughtful and caring approach to working with children and their families is threaded through services for children in Hounslow, and staff morale is high.
"Senior leaders know their services well. They have combined learning from previous inspections and peer reviews with their own monitoring arrangements to ensure that children receive timely and appropriate help to meet their individual needs," said the report. "Consequently, services at the ‘front door’ have improved and children in care receive a good service."
However, leaders are aware of the need to improve the consistency of services offered to children in need of help and protection and to care leavers. Well-targeted action plans, staff support and training are already being implemented, continuing to improve quality and outcomes for children.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers and overall effectiveness was rated as 'good' following the inspection while experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement.
Regarding the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, the report said that while an increasing number of children and families benefit from a wide range of good-quality early help provision in Hounslow, assessments and planning for children within early help services are not yet of a consistently good standard.
The report highlighted:
- Senior leaders have recently undertaken a review of early help services and are developing a more coordinated model across the partnership.
- The Hounslow ‘front door’ and the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) provide a timely and effective response to contacts by professionals and members of the public, to help to ensure that children’s needs are met at the earliest opportunity.
- Timely strategy discussions take place when children’s needs escalate.
- Social workers know their children well and show a good understanding of the individual plans for each child, seeking children’s wishes and feelings during their timely visits.
- Services for children who are at risk of sexual exploitation or who go missing are robust and enable good access to return home interviews.
However, child in need and child protection plans require improvement to be consistently good. Inspectors found variability in the quality of supervision records, which do not always do justice to the quality of supervision reported by social workers. The quality of practice for disabled children is not consistently good.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers however were rated good. The quality of services for children in care has improved since the inspection in 2014. Social workers and managers are highly aspirational for the children in their care and demonstrate a determination to improve children’s experiences and outcomes.
- Children in Hounslow are supported to remain in the care of their families if it is safe for them to do so.
- When children come into care, they live in good-quality placements that meet their individual needs and most children are matched well with their carers.
- Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children benefit from highly effective multi-agency work.
- Care leavers receive timely support from dedicated personal advisers who know them well.
- Children in care are given good support to become physically and emotionally healthier.
- However, consideration of health needs is not yet consistent for care leavers.
In terms of the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, which is rated as good, all areas for improvement that inspectors identified during this inspection were known to senior leaders, with action plans already in place.
- Senior leaders have developed mature relationships with partner agencies.
- Strong, cross-party political and corporate support for children’s services is focused on prioritising the needs of children.
- Corporate parenting arrangements are strong and have improved significantly since the inspection in 2014.
"Senior leaders have worked purposefully to build a stable workforce and enable staff development. The majority of staff told inspectors that their caseloads are manageable. Social workers’ morale is high. They have access to good training and management support and enjoy working in Hounslow," the report concluded.
To improve social work practice, Hounslow should focus on the quality of plans for children in need, including children in need of protection and disabled children and the quality of case recording, with particular regard to the management of allegations, 16-and 17-year-old homeless young people, private fostering arrangements and elective home education.
Hounslow should also prioritise improving the quality of recording of management oversight and supervision and health information for care leavers.