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Manchester has good understanding of strengths and weaknesses in practice

Senior leaders at Manchester City Council children's services have a good understanding of service strengths and of areas where the quality and impact of practice are not yet sufficient, Ofsted has said.

A focused visit to Manchester local authority children’s services which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for achieving permanence, in accordance with the inspection of local authority children’s services (ILACS) framework, said its self-evaluation in April 2018 recognises that it is still on an improvement journey to be good.

"Since their last inspection, the local authority has made improvements to the timeliness of statutory requirements, such as reviews, visits to children and completion of personal educational plans," said the report. "Further work is needed to address inconsistencies in the quality of chronologies, assessments, effective planning, timeliness of permanence decisions, contingency planning and management oversight and direction."

Many of these areas were highlighted as requiring improvement in the Ofsted inspection in December 2017. Since the last inspection, there has been a strengthening in the approach to securing permanency for children. However, it was too soon to see the impact of this for all children.

Inspectors found:

- The threshold for bringing children into care is appropriate.

- Children are visited regularly and are seen alone. Social workers know children well and are able to articulate their needs and views.

- Placements are meeting children’s needs.

- The majority of children’s statutory reviews are held regularly and are attended by the relevant professionals.

- Multi-agency working is effective.

- Family group conferences are used well to identify potential connected carers at an early stage. This leads to timely completion of connected carers’ assessments.

- Strengthened quality assurance processes mean that leaders have an accurate analysis and understanding of key priorities.

Decisions for children to become looked after are based on thorough and well-written child and family assessments. However, following these, assessments are not then routinely updated when children’s circumstances change.

Management oversight is evident in children’s case records. However, the rationale for managers’ decisions is not always clear, and the impact of management oversight on children’s plans is not consistently evident.

Children’s care plans are weak. They lack sufficient detail about the child’s needs, interventions, aspirations, overall plans for permanence and contingency arrangements.

Life-story work is not undertaken with all children looked after. Children wait too long to understand the changes and transitions that they have experienced and the decisions that have been made for them.

Permanence planning is not robust and does not consistently take place within a child’s time scale. Drift in care planning has led to some children remaining in long-term foster placements by default rather than through effective and focused planning.

Disruption meetings do not always take place for children when placements break down. This means that learning is not routinely considered and so does not inform decisions about future placements for children.

Social workers’ morale was found to be high in Manchester children’s services. Social workers describe caseloads as manageable and ranging from 22 to 24. Staff are positive about working in Manchester and say that they feel listened to and supported, and they demonstrate passion and commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable children.

"Senior managers have been successful in creating an environment which is conducive to continued improvement," the report concludes.

Focused visit to Manchester local authority children’s services

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