Services for children and families in Kingston upon Thames have continued to improve strongly since being judged good overall at the previous inspection in 2015 and are now outstanding.
Senior managers and elected members demonstrate a relentless determination to provide the best possible services, based on a comprehensive understanding of practice and performance and of the needs of children and families in Kingston, the inspection of children's services found.
"Learning from reviews, audits and focused visits is skilfully implemented. Staff are highly skilled and well motivated and take great pride in their work. They are supported by managers who are equally passionate about improving children’s experiences," said the report.
"Children in need of help and protection receive timely and well-targeted support. Multi- agency working is well established and contributes effectively to risk reduction. Services for children in care and care leavers are particularly impressive. They are supported by corporate parents, who play an active part in ensuring that children and young people are given every opportunity to flourish. Children’s views routinely inform assessments, plans and service development," the report added.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection were rated good by Ofsted. Inspectors highlighted:
- A wide range of increasingly well-coordinated and effective early help is available for children and families in Kingston.
- Assessments are thorough; they clearly identify risk, and children’s needs are quickly addressed. A clear escalation process means that workers identify children during assessment who require more urgent intervention so that they do not wait unduly for the right service.
- When concerns increase, children are appropriately stepped up from early help to statutory services.
- Thresholds of need are clearly understood by staff and partner agencies and are applied consistently.
- Management oversight of decisions is evident, and the rationale is clearly recorded on case records.
- Prompt initial strategy discussions between social care and the police inform immediate safety planning.
- Family therapists, co-located with social workers, provide accessible and effective consultation and programmes of support to children and social workers.
- Child protection plans and most child in need plans are regularly updated and include clear actions with timescales for completion. Core groups are well attended by partner agencies. Risk is well understood, and cases are stepped up appropriately within the safeguarding teams.
- Child in need plans are regularly reviewed. The plans include appropriate contributions from key professionals and they are informed by parents’ and children’s views.
- Pre-proceedings activity, under the public law outline, is initiated appropriately when child protection plans are not effective in helping to reduce risks to children.
- Reflective supervision and management oversight of work are consistently evident on case files and are a strength of the service.
- Risks in relation to children who go missing are identified well and the response is timely and proportionate.
- Risks of exploitation or vulnerability to exploitation are identified well by social workers, and plans are clear regarding concerns and protective factors.
- A well-established, assured and confident approach to allegations against professionals is thorough and proportionate to the initial information presented.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers is outstanding. Ofsted said:
- Children only come into care when necessary and appropriate. When it is not possible for children to remain living with their parents or to return home from care, permanence options are considered at a very early stage, and this is a fixed agenda item in children looked after reviews.
- Children are supported to live with their extended family if they are unable to remain with their parents.
- When the permanence plan is for adoption, family finders are allocated at an early stage. Before placement orders are granted, anonymous profiles shared with prospective adopters enable consideration of potential matches in order to prevent delay for children.
- Children in care continue to receive good support with their education.
- Children benefit from good-quality foster care placements, and the outcomes for children are very positive.
- Care plans are reviewed regularly to ensure steady progress, or more often, to reflect changing circumstances.
- Care leavers receive a highly effective service. Workers in the leaving care service describe a strong and supportive team environment in which they are encouraged to share their wealth of knowledge and experience to support all young people who access the service.
- A good range of effective and accessible learning and support workshops help care leavers to develop skills and confidence in living independently.
- Work with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is of high quality and is sensitively managed. Knowledgeable and tenacious workers ensure that needs are assessed swiftly, and comprehensive planning enables young people to be fully aware of their legal options and what to expect in the future.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is outstanding. The report states:
- Leaders prioritise the needs of Kingston’s children through a relentless focus on
understanding the quality of practice and acting decisively to improve services.
- Corporate parenting is particularly strong, underpinned by a determination to act as a ‘good parent’. This determination is at the heart of the corporate parenting strategy and resulting plans.
- Relationships with partner agencies are strong. Strategic partners and corporate colleagues engage well in improving services for children.
- Senior leaders have worked effectively with the local adoption consortium to help manage a smooth transition to the Adopt London South regional adoption agency (RAA).
- The local authority, through AfC, has a strong performance management culture, with an equally strong focus on practice learning.
- A mature and well-established audit programme is used effectively to focus on specific aspects of work to understand impact.
- A wide range of performance management information is analysed effectively to prioritise areas for improvement.
- Investment in the children’s workforce has been instrumental in reducing caseloads, enabling consistently good and outstanding social work practice.
"Staff are unanimously positive about working in Kingston. They describe a highly supportive working environment in which managers are challenging and supportive in equal measure. Regular, high-quality reflective supervision helps workers to have the confidence, skills and capacity to deliver consistently good direct help and support to children. They take great pride in what they do, and this is reflected in meticulous and sensitive records of their work," the report concludes.
Ofsted recommends that Kingston improves the review of child in need plans, including plans for disabled children and addresses the range and targeting of post-16 pathways into employment, including apprenticeships and local business opportunities.
Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
Inspection of children’s social care services
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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