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Improvements made at Derbyshire but further work needed

A stronger leadership team has created stability at a strategic level across the service at Derbyshire County Council, Ofsted has said.
Following the single inspection in 2013, a council restructure led to a substantial reduction in leadership and management capacity in children’s services. Combined with a period of organisational instability, this resulted in a significant decline in the quality of services for vulnerable children.
"When appointed in 2016, the executive director for children’s services (DCS) identified the root causes of the decline and the key priority actions necessary to improve services. She acted to secure the support of political and corporate leaders, ensuring significant reinvestment in the service," said the report.
The senior leadership team has a sound understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the service. Members of the team have worked purposefully to tackle shortfalls, and consequently some services are much improved.
However, the quality of support and help is not consistent across all services and there remain areas for improvement, particularly in the support offered to care leavers and some children in need, the inspection of children's services found.
Ofsted rated Derbyshire as requires improvement to be good overall effectiveness.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement to be good.
The report found:
- Children referred to Starting Point (Derbyshire’s front door for access to early help and children’s services) benefit from a timely and efficient initial triage process.
- When children require early help support, multi-agency team (MAT) workers are extremely effective in providing a range of interventions to support children and their families.
- Children at risk of significant harm receive diligent oversight from the duty manager.
- All information on children’s needs and relevant reports are front-loaded in pre-proceedings, including parenting and viability assessments. This means that work at this threshold is being progressed in a timely way to reduce drift and delay.
- The preventing family breakdown team provides a high-quality service and adds significant value by supporting children on the edge of care.
However, the report warns that children in need of help and protection in Derbyshire do not have the benefit of consistently good services.
While strategy meeting decisions are appropriate, the quality of recording is not of a consistently high quality. Often, while decisions are clearly recorded, timescales for interventions are not.
Although most children’s single assessments identify risks effectively, some are too brief, leading to recommendations for further assessment, which can result in delays in children receiving the help they need. This is, on occasions, compounded by insufficient management oversight.
Furthermore, the quality of information in children’s plans fluctuates from being strong, with detailed actions outlining risks and expectations for change, to being weaker, with a lack of focus.
The timeliness and effectiveness of return home interviews for children at risk of exploitation who go missing from home or from care is variable. Young people who present as homeless at ages 16 and 17 are not provided with a clear understanding of their rights and entitlements, including their options of coming into the care of the local authority.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement to be good.
Inspectors highlighted:
- Although children in care receive a good service, care leavers receive much less effective support.
- Following widespread consultation with care leavers and a comprehensive service review, a new service provides a secure basis for a streamlined and coordinated service for care leavers and there are early signs of some improvements. However, it is too early to demonstrate positive impact, as this service was only just launched at the time of the inspection.
- Leaders have invested in re-commissioning and increasing suitable accommodation and support for care leavers. As a result of this, performance in relation to the percentage of care leavers in suitable accommodation is much improved.
- Most children come into care in a timely way, either planned or when risks make it unsafe for them to remain with their parents. They benefit from living with their extended family, or in foster or residential care according to their individual needs.
- Permanence is planned for children from an early stage.
- Children’s care plans are updated at each review meeting and these mostly reflect their circumstances, risks and needs. Reviews and meetings are timely and well attended by the agencies that are known to the child.
- Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Derbyshire receive an excellent and responsive service to meet their needs.
- The local authority fostering service is a strength, and foster carers state that they feel well supported and respected as professionals, and they speak very highly of the supervising social workers.
However, in too many cases, assessments, pathway plans and record-keeping for care leavers are not of good enough quality. Their written assessment and plans are poor, with little or no analysis and no clear plan for achieving independence or for how young people will be supported.
Some children have experienced several moves before they are able to be offered homes which meet their needs for stability and security, and this reflects the local authority’s sufficiency challenges.
For a few children, they are not receiving timely support with their emotional health and well-being, the report adds.
The report says that the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is good.
Ofsted states:
- A stable, permanent leadership team has been created that demonstrates determination to deliver improvements in services for children.
- Although services are not yet consistently good, the impact of strategic leaders on delivering widescale improvement is evident.
- Staff feel well supported and are signed up to the chosen model of social work practice. Caseloads have reduced overall, but for a minority of social workers, they remain higher than the target set by the local authority, although leaders are committed to resolving this.
- There are good governance arrangements in place that enable senior leaders to assure themselves that the Regional Adoption Agency (Adoption East Midlands) delivers well for Derbyshire’s children.
- Leaders have a sound understanding of the strengths and areas for improvement across the service. They are outward-facing, seeking to learn from the wider sector.
- A well-developed, effective performance and quality assurance framework ensures that leaders have an accurate knowledge and understanding of frontline practice.
- Significantly, the leadership team quickly recognised that the service provided to care leavers had declined following a change in management oversight in the outsourced service in late 2017. They took rigorous action to assess the impact, including commissioning an independent review and seeking extensive consultation with care leavers.
- Care leavers participating in the care leavers council report positively about being able to contribute to the recruitment of social care staff.
- There are challenges in the sufficiency of some placements for children in care. Leaders have a clear understanding of their sufficiency needs and have developed a comprehensive strategy and plan.
- Senior leaders are visible and know what is happening across services.
Ofsted recommends that in order to improve, Derbyshire should address the timeliness with which Starting Point progress decision-making on contacts when there are no child protection concerns. The quality and timeliness of assessment and planning for children in need requires improvement, including disabled children, those in private fostering arrangements and young people who present as homeless.
Derbyshire should improve the consistency of the quality of recording of strategy discussions and the timeliness of initial personal education plans (PEPs) and initial health assessments for children newly into care.
The consistency of practice, including the effectiveness of front-line management oversight and supervision, needs improvement.
Derbyshire County Council
Inspection of children’s social care services

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