Improvements highlighted at Cheshire West and Chester

Leaders and managers at Cheshire West and Chester children's services have continued to improve provision for children and families, according to Ofsted.

Since the previous inspection of children’s services in 2015 under the Single Inspection Framework as well as the Joint Targeted Area Inspection in 2017, managers have taken positive action to address the recommendations and findings from these inspections.

"There have been significant improvements within early help and prevention (EHP) and the ‘front door’, plus a focus on edge of care and on restructuring services for disabled children, which means that most children in receipt of these services have good support.

For a small number of children, there is further work required to be done to ensure that information is gained from all relevant agencies through strategy meetings before decisions are made," said the report.

Ofsted rated Cheshire West and Chester as good in all areas and for overall effectiveness.

In terms of the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, inspectors highlighted:

- The initial access to resources team (iART) provides an effective ‘front door’ service, ensuring that children receive a timely response when they require additional support.

- Incidents of domestic abuse are well considered, and children receive an appropriate service as a result of the daily risk meetings between police and children’s social care.

- Experienced managers in the EHP service ensure that children quickly receive a timely response from the most appropriate agency.

- The majority of assessments of children’s needs are strong, and some are excellent.

- Planning for most children is a strength.

- The local authority responds well to children at risk of, or suffering, child sexual exploitation.

- Children missing from home or care are quickly identified and reported to children’s social care.

However, there is some inconsistency in the way concerns for children outside of office hours are responded to by the emergency duty team (EDT). The team aims to provide a bespoke service for children who require out-of-office-hours monitoring. However, when workload demands are high, EDT social workers do not always have the capacity to respond to concerns about children swiftly.

A restructure of the children with disabilities service has resulted in most children receiving an appropriate intervention that is in accordance with their assessed need. However, not all assessments of children’s needs are regularly reviewed and updated by the professionals involved with the child in order to maintain an appropriate level of intervention.

Ethnicity and diversity issues are not sufficiently considered for children and young people during assessments, planning and direct work.

Regarding the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, the report stated:

- Children and young people come into care in a timely way when it is in their best interest.

- Social workers take time to get to know the children they work with and engage them in creative and purposeful direct work.

- Permanence options for children are well considered.

- Children’s plans are reviewed regularly by independent reviewing officers who know them well.

- Children live with carers who meet their needs well.

- The local authority has effective tracking systems in place to monitor placements for all children in care.

- Young people and care leavers are provided with strong support services to help them to access employment education and training.

The report noted, however, the local authority had previously recognised a need to improve the quality of child permanence records and, through additional specialist training for social workers, there has been some improvement for children, although the quality of child permanence reports is not consistently good.

Life-story work is not always prepared in a timely way for children placed for adoption. This means that children are not always effectively supported to make the transition to a permanent home with a clear understanding of why they were placed with their adoptive carers.

In relation to the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, Ofsted said:

- The strong political and senior leadership team has a wealth of experience and knowledge about children’s outcomes across the boroughs of Cheshire West and Chester.

- Leaders have ensured that children’s services remain a corporate priority and the council and the partnership are in the early stages of implementing a new practice model ‘new ways of working’.

- Senior leaders have developed a strong culture of learning across children’s services.

- A well-structured performance and monitoring process supports managers and leaders at all levels to contribute to improving practice and outcomes for children.

The vast majority of social workers have regular supervision; however, this is not consistent in every team. For some social workers, their one-to-one supervision has not been sufficiently regular given the complexity of their caseloads. Some supervision records do not always reflect the quality of the discussion reported by social workers and some records only contain a list of tasks to complete.

While the local authority increased resources for additional social workers in some teams, this has not reduced caseloads for all social workers and this has impacted on a small number of children.

"Children benefit from a stable and resilient workforce. Staff are positive about working in Cheshire West and Chester; they ensure that they know the children they work with well and demonstrate this when talking about them. Social workers have access to a comprehensive learning and development package and are supported to develop their skills, experience and qualifications through a well-embedded ‘grow your own’ framework," said the report.

"Staff report opportunities to progress into more senior positions in the organisation and develop their skills through moving around different service areas. This means that social workers are able to gain more experience and knowledge to support the children and families they work with," the report concluded.

To improve practice, Cheshire West and Chester should ensure up-to-date recording of practice with children and their families that provides an accurate account to inform decision-making for children.

Social workers’ exploration of the impact of diversity on children’s lived experiences needs improving, as does, the consistency of decision-making to hold strategy meetings involving partner agencies where concerns are raised for children at risk of significant harm.

Social workers should also have full information from practice reviews and audits for children on their caseloads in order to help them to learn and develop their practice.

Cheshire West and Chester
Inspection of children’s social care services

Delivering a diverse, reliable range of services to children and their families across the UK
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