Progress has been made in many areas of children’s services in Leicestershire since the last inspection in 2016, when all judgements were graded as ‘requires improvement to be good’, Ofsted has said.
The report following the inspection of children's services at Leicestershire said that while services for children in care are now judged to be good, those for children needing help and protection still require improvement to be good.
Overall, children are not experiencing good practice consistently enough across all services, and the extent and impact of the remaining areas for improvement are substantial. For these reasons, overall effectiveness requires improvement to be good.
"Commitment and investment by political and corporate leaders, together with effective work by staff and senior managers, have meant that responses to the needs of children and families have improved in many areas. Most children in care are settled in good homes with their needs well met, and, for that reason, they make good progress. Most care leavers live in suitable accommodation, and the majority are participating in education, training or employment. There is a more timely and effective response when children first need help and protection, including out of hours and for children at risk of sexual exploitation and for children who go missing, as well as those experiencing the impact of domestic abuse. The quality of assessments has improved, and they now more clearly identify children’s needs," the report said.
However, the quality of social work practice is still too variable, particularly for children needing help and protection. Although the pace of improvement has accelerated in the last 12 months, since the appointment of a permanent director of children’s services, core areas of social work practice and management still need to be improved.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement to be good. Ofsted stated:
- Children and families can access a good variety of targeted early help services, which support parents to safely care for their children, although, some children wait too long to access this support.
- There has been some improvement in the quality of referrals since the implementation of a newly designed multi-agency referral form in April 2019.
- Children receive a timely and effective response when they need help and protection in the evenings and at weekends.
- Children at risk of immediate harm are seen early, and initial assessments of their needs are prompt.
- Management oversight of high-risk duty work is firmly in place.
- Child protection enquiries are thorough, and a clear rationale for the decision to begin section 47 enquiries is recorded.
- Work with police, education and health partners is mostly a strength.
- Social workers feel well supported by their managers.
- Disabled children who need help and protection receive a good service.
- The impressive Vulnerability Hub is effective in safeguarding children and young people who are at risk of harm or who are experiencing harm from sexual exploitation, as well as those who go missing from home and from care.
- Where children live in homes in which domestic abuse and violence is a concern, there is prompt and effective information-sharing and careful consideration of risk and history.
However, Ofsted warns that although improving, the quality of assessments remains variable. More recent assessments are better at identifying the impact for children of cumulative risk, but for a small minority of children, there is insufficient analysis of the risks that they are exposed to.
Where children are not at immediate risk of harm, assessments are not undertaken swiftly enough. Sometimes there is a delay in allocating to a worker, children are not seen quickly enough, and recommendations are not routinely signed off as management decisions.
The quality of plans is not consistent. Stronger plans are rooted in a thorough assessment and are specific and clear about expectations and time-frames for improvements to be made. Weaker plans lack clear, specific time-frames for action and are not sufficiently clear about what needs to happen and who is responsible for making it happen.
Children in the pre-proceedings phase of the Public Law Outline (PLO) wait too long for social workers and managers to formulate plans and act to achieve positive change for them.
Management oversight is visible on case records, but the impact that managers have on case progression is too variable and does not prevent children from waiting too long to achieve positive change. This is because supervision is not regular, there is limited evidence of analysis or reflective practice, and it does not lead to specific or challenging actions with timescales for completion that are followed up and children’s progress monitored.
Although most social workers know their children well, and take care to understand their wishes and feelings, records do not consistently reflect the positive work they do.
Furthermore, although work to address child sexual exploitation is well established and embedded, the local authority and police partners acknowledge further work is needed to understand the true scale of child criminal exploitation in Leicestershire and to develop an equally effective response. Training and awareness-raising activity following the discovery of several active county lines has been effective in increasing the number of referrals which link sexual and criminal exploitation.
Ofsted rated the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers as good. The report highlights:
- Most children in care and care leavers make good progress, and their lives are better because of the improved and good services they now receive in Leicestershire.
- Children return home from care when it is safe to do so, because their parents have been well supported to make the necessary changes and because risks have reduced.
- Children achieve permanence through adoption within the right timescales.
- Brothers and sisters benefit from well-considered assessments about whether they should live together or apart.
- Most children in care have developed positive and trusting relationships with social workers who they have known for many years and who visit them regularly.
- The Children in Care Council (CiCC) and Supporting Young People After Care (SYPAC) group are an impressive assembly of children and young people who feel listened to and valued by the highly visible and effective lead member and other senior leaders.
- The local authority is aspirational for its children in care and care leavers and holds regular events that celebrate their achievements.
- Risk is well identified and managed for children in care and care leavers.
- Children’s physical and emotional health needs are mostly well monitored, and they have all the checks they need.
- Foster carers and children in foster care homes are well supported.
- A dedicated and knowledgeable team of social workers, personal advisers and education staff provides an effective service to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
- Care leavers value the support they receive from personal advisers who know them well and who understand their past lived experiences. The local authority is in touch with nearly all of its care leavers.
The report says however that care planning for children who achieve permanence other than through adoption is not good enough. A full range of permanence options is considered for children, but a lack of robust management oversight and consistent challenge from independent review officers (IROs) leads to drift and delay for some children achieving permanence through long-term fostering and special guardianship.
The written plans for children in long-term foster care, are lengthy and difficult for the children to understand. Actions are sometimes vague and lack timescales, making it unclear exactly who will be doing what and by when to ensure that children’s permanence and day-to-day needs are going to be met.
Furthermore, when changes of social workers occur, an absence of up-to-date chronologies and case summaries in children’s records hinders the new workers’ ability to quickly learn about the experiences of children. Similarly, placement plans are not always up to date. This gap in data does not help to inform planning or prevent children from having to repeat their stories.
Ofsted rated the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families as good. Inspectors highlighted:
- Since the last inspection in 2016, the local authority has appropriately prioritised children’s social care with the allocation of additional funding and resources.
- These have substantially improved service performance in specific areas, such as responses at the front door, the quality of assessments, and strong post adoption and special guardianship support.
- Improvement activity and analysis is well informed by a strong culture of learning from a wide range of sources, which increasingly include feedback from service users, and are underpinned by accurate data, an embedded model of social work practice and reduced social worker caseloads.
- There has been a noticeable increase in the pace of improvement activity since the appointment of the current director of children’s services 12 months ago and her commitment to improving the lives of children is evident.
- Partnerships with other agencies are well established and strong and underpin innovative work, such as the development of the vulnerability hub with police and neighbouring local authorities.
- The local authority has successfully reduced caseloads for frontline staff, and this means that they have more time available to get to know their children well.
- Leaders have responded appropriately to the need to reduce paperwork so that social workers can spend more time with children and families.
- An effective range of performance management processes means that senior leaders and managers know their services well.
- There is a well-established social work model of practice throughout children’s services which underpins practice improvement activity.
However, the report states that while significant improvement has been achieved in a wide range of service areas, actions to address some deficits have not had sufficient impact. So, while leaders have initiated campaigns to improve the quality of plans and the impact of frontline management supervision, these have not led to consistent or sustained improvements in frontline practice.
Maintaining a stable and sufficiently qualified workforce is recognised as an ongoing and significant challenge for Leicestershire, however, an appropriate workforce strategy is in place that is having a positive impact.
Ofsted makes a number of recommendations in order for Leicestershire to improve social work practice.
The timeliness of assessment and help for children who are not identified as being at immediate risk of significant harm but who live with the impact of cumulative risk and harm needs improvement as does the timeliness of work to secure positive change for children during the pre-proceedings stage of the Public Law Outline.
The quality and consistency of social work practice in care planning needs improvement, including the quality of supervision and oversight to prevent unnecessary drift and delay for children.
The quality of case recording needs work to enable new workers to more easily understand a child’s history and circumstances.
Planning for permanence for children whose plan is not adoption also needs improvement and Leicestershire should improve the monitoring of the quality and appropriateness of alternative education provision for children in care.
Leicestershire children's services inspection