A permanent leadership team has driven steady and realistic improvements in the first response service at Leicestershire children's services, Ofsted has said.
Leicestershire children’s services were last inspected by Ofsted in 2016, when the overall effectiveness of the service was judged to require improvement to be good.
However, with strong political support, the leadership team has "increased capacity, reduced caseloads and created a learning environment which has been successful in stabilising the workforce, resulting in children and families receiving improved services," said the report.
Inspectors looked at the local authority’s arrangements for children who need help and protection. The report highlighted that senior leaders know their service well and gain an understanding of social work practice from a range of quality assurance activities, which include thematic audits, social worker self-assessments, feedback from families, performance data and practice observations.
"Learning from these activities is shared in what social workers describe as a ‘high support, high challenge culture’," the report added.
- Leicestershire’s first response service now has a stable workforce. Staff feel supported and valued and good practice is celebrated and shared, and morale is high.
- Team managers in the first response team promptly analyse and risk assess all contacts.
- The response to domestic abuse notifications and contacts has been strengthened by a pilot involving the co-location of a social work team with the police, resulting in tangible improvements to the speed and quality of response to domestic abuse concerns.
- Social workers visit and see children quickly when they are assessed as being at risk of imminent harm.
- The recently re-configured out of hours service is effective and provides children in Leicestershire with good support and protection outside office hours.
However, the quality of assessments is variable and while assessments are completed within statutory timescales, this is not always proportionate to children’s needs.
Inspectors also found the quality of contacts and referrals from partner agencies is variable and demonstrates a lack of consistent understanding of thresholds.
Too many children are re-referred to children’s services for the same or similar issues as before, meaning that previous interventions have not resulted in sustained improvements in children’s lives. Too often, social workers see children’s referrals in isolation rather that piecing together histories and analysing outcomes from previous assessments or contacts in order to inform planning.
In order to improve social work practice, Ofsted recommends Leicestershire should focus on partners’ consideration of thresholds, the quality of their referrals and their understanding of consent.
The timeliness of social workers visiting and talking to children who have been initially assessed as not at immediate risk of harm needs work and the speed and quality of management decision-making when section 47 enquiries are being considered needs to be more consistent.
Leicestershire should also prioritise the clarity of recording actions, with timescales, as a result of strategy discussions. There should also be consistency in the quality of assessments, including them being completed within a child’s timescale.
"Senior leaders know what the strengths of the service are, but they also recognise that there is much more to do to achieve the goals in their ‘road to excellence’ improvement plan," the report concluded.