Services at Nottingham have improved but further work needed

A range of services have improved for children in Nottingham since the last full inspection in 2014, according to Ofsted.

An inspection of children’s social care services Nottingham City Council found that there are areas of good practice across the service, but also important areas where improvements are required to ensure that all children get the right support at the right time.

“Areas for improvement are not always understood by leaders or addressed with sufficient urgency. Planning for children and the pace of change to improve children’s lives are not strong enough to achieve good outcomes for all children,” said the report. “Some children live for too long in homes where they are neglected. A small group of very young children have been left vulnerable in unsuitable private fostering arrangements.”

Furthermore, there are not enough social workers to deliver high-quality interventions, given the complexity of need in the city. The systems in place are not good enough to ensure that all children in care are supported to achieve good education outcomes or timely permanence.

Nottingham requires improvement to be good, Ofsted said.

With regards to the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, which requires improvement to be good, Ofsted said:

– A wide array of early help and family support services effectively improve children’s circumstances in Nottingham city.

– Child protection enquiries are swift and well-coordinated, including when concerns are received out of hours.

– Social workers’ timely assessments of children’s needs are thorough and provide a clear view of risks to children.

– Vulnerable children living with high risks, including risks of criminal or sexual exploitation, or drugs trafficking, are well identified and rapidly supported.

However, although the council has continued to develop its responses to initial enquiries and concerns about children, and there is some very good practice in supporting children in early help, there remain weaknesses in the social work provided to children and families.

Both children in need and child protection plans are weak. Management oversight and the supervision of social workers are not consistently identifying the right areas for improvement.

In relation to the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, which requires improvement to be good, inspectors highlighted:

– Decisions for children to come into care are taken appropriately, although for some children who live in neglectful or risky situations, it can take too long, making it harder for them to settle and feel safe.

– The number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in Nottingham is steadily growing and the children benefit from specialist support from the council.

– Social workers in the children in care teams have manageable workloads, which allows them to visit children regularly, understand their needs and help them to progress.

– Social workers rightly consider a full range of permanence options for children, including return home plans where appropriate. Assessments are thorough and provide a clear rationale for recommendations.

The quality of the leaving care service has improved since the last inspection. However, pathway plans for care leavers are not consistently of a good enough quality. The number of care leavers engaged in employment, education or training has also recently dipped from its previous high levels.

Furthermore, the council does not have sufficient emergency accommodation to cope with demand.

The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families also requires improvement to be good. Ofsted noted:

– The council’s self-assessment does not accurately identify all the shortfalls found during this inspection.

– Senior managers continue to lead effective strategic partnerships, although these do not fully benefit all children who require social work services.

– The virtual school is not effective in addressing the needs of all children in care, and too many legacy issues have delayed progress in increasing the focus on educational attainment for children.

– Management oversight and supervision are not effective in ensuring that all children’s plans progress at an appropriate pace.

“Visible and highly respected leaders in children’s services ensure a continued focus on interventions that are child-centred and responsive. Staff reflect this vision, placing children and families at the heart of their practice. They are enthusiastic advocates for Nottingham city. Morale is high and social workers feel valued. The ‘grow our own’ social work scheme continues to be successful and newly qualified social workers value and benefit from excellent support,” said the report.

“Nonetheless, workforce capacity continues to affect the consistency of support offered to children and families. The use of agency staff has reduced, and the turnover of social workers and managers has decreased. Yet, there continue to be service pressures felt across teams,” the report concluded.

Ofsted recommends that management oversight of the use of private fostering, the quality of planning for children and their review across all service areas and the recognition of and timely action for children living with sustained neglect needs to improve.

Furthermore, the quality of management oversight and supervision of social workers to progress children’s plans, the quality of return home interviews for children who go missing and the educational progress and achievement for children in care needs improving.

The availability of sufficient and suitable emergency accommodation for vulnerable young people and children with complex needs needs addressing and the progress and timeliness of permanence plans for children, including fostering for adoption, needs work.

Nottingham City Council Inspection of children’s social care services

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