'Significant improvements' have been made at Lancashire children's services, Ofsted has said.
Inspectors highlighted that leaders can now demonstrate that they know their services well and this insight has led to some significant improvements and children's services are no longer inadequate.
"From a very slow start, the past six months in Lancashire have seen a much-needed injection of pace, with a renewed energy and focus," said the report.
The re-inspection of services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers found that overall children’s services in Lancashire require improvement to be good, although adoption services were praised as 'good'.
An effective corporate leadership structure is now in place and a new post of executive director of education and children’s services has been created. Senior leaders now fully understand the scale of the improvements that are required and have taken appropriate action, which has seen services for children improve.
Senior managers and leaders have taken on board the feedback from Ofsted monitoring visits, their peers and commissioned improvement partners to ensure that change is informed by best practice and previous inspection recommendations.
The report said that 'recent significant investment' in redesign of structures and in additional staff across key teams have led to improvements in services for children, namely the MASH, the implementation of a placement finding team and developments for children on the edge of care.
This improvement is supported by an increased focus on quality assurance.
An effective workforce strategy is addressing retention rates and reducing the reliance on agency staff resulting in an increasingly stable workforce. As a result social workers have been able to develop stable relationships with children and understand their needs well.
However the report highlights that senior managers are under no illusion about the rate of progress to date. There is still inconsistent practice across the service and more needs to be done to embed recent developments.
- The cultural shift from compliance with statutory requirements to achieving a consistent quality of practice is yet to be completed.
- The model of practice is not sufficiently strength-based, and this impacts on the quality of assessments, plans and case recording for some children.
- There is also drift and delay for some children.
- Effective multi-agency early help services are not sufficiently embedded.
- A more focused response to neglect is still required to ensure that children receive consistently effective child in need support.
However, Ofsted highlights that the adoption service has evolved into a centralised, responsive and supportive team, which has consistently delivered a good standard of work. The response to care leavers is now much more focused and supportive than it was at the time of the last inspection.
The council is a committed and responsible corporate parent. Despite increasing numbers, children looked after are seen regularly, placement finding processes lead to the majority of children being placed within Lancashire, and placement stability is better than comparators. Significant progress has been made to improve the educational attainment and progress of children looked after at Key Stages 1 and 2.
Further commissioning work is required to increase the range of targeted and preventive domestic abuse services on offer.
The report makes a number of recommendations and Lancashire should:
- Work with partners to ensure that an effective range of early help services is in place to support children and families when they first need help.
- Ensure that all plans for children in need, children subject to child protection plans, looked after children and care leavers are specific, measurable and outcome-focused, so that parents, young people and professionals know who needs to do what, and by when.
- Ensure that the local authority and partners share a common understanding of the risks associated with neglect, in all its different forms.
- Ensure that all care leavers receive timely and accessible support that meets their financial, educational and emotional health needs.
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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