A summary of the Ofsted reports of children’s services inspections published in October.
Senior leaders focused on improving children’s services at Newcastle
Senior leaders at Newcastle have been resolute in their focus to improve children’s services, Ofsted has found.
At the last Ofsted inspection of Newcastle upon Tyne children’s services, in April 2017, the overall effectiveness of the service was judged to require improvement to be good. Senior leaders have recognised that the model of social work delivery was not responsive enough to changing demands and service pressures. It was restructured early this year to support continuous improvement and the ambition to provide consistently good and outstanding services for children.
“Senior leaders have received significant support from councillors and the chief executive and financial investment. At the time of this visit, senior managers had made significant strides in creating a more stable workforce. They had increased capacity through additional social work teams, and reduced caseloads to a manageable level, enabling social workers to build effective relationships and undertake meaningful direct work,” said the report of the focused visit to Newcastle which concentrated on the local authority’s arrangements for children in need and those subject to a child protection plan.
Improvements required for care leavers in Gloucestershire
There is still more to do to improve services to care leavers at Gloucestershire, Ofsted has said.
While some of the recommendations from the last inspection have been progressed, such as keeping in touch with care leavers, a number of areas identified for improvement remain, the monitoring visit of Gloucestershire which looked at care leavers services, management oversight, challenge and staff supervision and the arrangements for responding to allegations against adults who work with children and young people found.
“Most care leavers now benefit from regular, responsive visiting and positive relationships with their workers. Increasingly purposeful and timely planning and interventions help to improve the circumstances of young people. However, support is not effective in all areas,” said the report.
“While the majority of pathway plans are completed within required timescales, the quality is variable, and they are not routinely updated when young people’s circumstances change. Not all care leavers have access to timely mental health provision. Young people are not routinely provided with information to help them understand their health histories. The vast majority of young people live in suitable accommodation, but too many young people are not in employment, education or training,” it added.
Shropshire makes progress for children needing to achieve permanence
Shropshire has made progress in improving services for children who need permanent arrangements for their care, Ofsted has found.
A focused visit, which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for achieving permanence, found that for almost all children who come into care, swift decisions are made about their permanent care plans.
The report found the local authority is successful in ensuring that most children who cannot live with their parents are placed quickly in alternative living arrangements, including placements with relatives, adoption, long-term fostering and, for a few, specialist residential living.
“Placement stability has improved, with fewer children experiencing multiple moves. Adoption is carefully considered for all children who cannot return home. Brothers and sisters are placed together whenever possible and adoption disruption is rare.
Special guardianship orders (SGO) are considered for children living in long-term fostering arrangements. Plans for children in care who are living with their parents under placement with parents (PWP) regulations are not sufficiently clear about what parents need to do to achieve good enough standards of parenting,” said the report.
Hammersmith and Fulham rated good in Ofsted children’s services inspection
Direct work with children in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham is strong and the overall experiences of children and their families in receipt of services continue to be good, Ofsted has said.
Since the last inspection, in 2016, the local authority has disaggregated most social care services for children from the joint arrangements with Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster, although some shared services remain.
The newly established senior leadership team, with good support from corporate and political leaders, has focused on sustaining and improving the quality of work with children and families.
“Services have been successfully redesigned following internal and external reviews, and have benefited from significant investment. Leaders know their services well and are actively tackling areas that need further improvement, such as the quality of performance data and the consistency of services offered to children in need of help and protection, as well as those in private fostering arrangements. Capacity has been increased in the contact and assessment service. However, caseloads remain high. In addition, capacity issues within the early help service are resulting in some delays to the provision of support to children and their families,” said the report of children’s services.
Westminster rated as outstanding by Ofsted
Excellent services for vulnerable children in Westminster result in positive and enduring change for children and families, Ofsted has said.
Provision for care leavers and provision for children in need of help and protection have developed further since the last inspection, and they are both outstanding.
“Collaborative, adaptable and distributive leadership continually develops and builds a research- and learning based practice model. Leaders and senior managers work together highly effectively within a bi-borough approach to provide excellent strategic and some shared operational services with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and also to a lesser extent with the London Borough of
Hammersmith and Fulham,” said the report.
Ofsted praised the “highly skilled, experienced social workers” and other frontline practitioners who provide “sensitive and innovative child-centred interventions”. parents receive “imaginative and sensitive services,” it added.
Services for children in Kensington and Chelsea are outstanding
Services for children who need help and protection, children in care and care leavers in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are outstanding, according to Ofsted.
Since the previous inspection in 2016, excellent services and high-quality social work practice have been very well sustained, the inspection of children’s services found.
“Senior leadership is strong and aspirational; leaders continue to strengthen, improve and innovate services to benefit children and their families. Leaders and senior managers work together highly effectively within a bi-borough approach to provide excellent strategic and some shared operational services with Westminster City Council, and with the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. This includes the highly effective multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) and the well-regarded centre for systemic practice,” said the report.
Durham strengthens services
Durham Council has taken swift and decisive action to strengthen services, Ofsted has said.
Pace has increased since the focused visit, and solid improvements can be seen in many service areas, including at the front door and for children in care. Firm foundations are in place to sustain and build on the improvements made.
“There has been a significant increase in workforce capacity and a restructure of children’s services, including a restructure of the senior leadership team. The new leadership structure has improved practice oversight, enabling leaders to better challenge weaker practice. However, management oversight, challenge and consistency of social work practice are not fully embedded in all service areas, including those for disabled children, those for children who are privately fostered and those for homeless 16- and 17-year-olds. As a result, some children are not always receiving help at the earliest opportunity,” said the report. “Senior leaders and managers were not aware of some of these shortfalls until the inspection. However, they made plans to address them during the inspection.”
Pace of change at Dorset improves
Changes in the senior leadership team at Dorset and local government re-organisation have significantly impacted on the pace of improvement in children’s services, Ofsted has said.
Many areas of improvement identified in the single inspection in 2016 had not improved at the point of the JTAI in 2018. But children are now benefiting from much better help and protection.
“However, the variability in key practice areas, such as assessment and planning, aligned with some inconsistency in the application of threshold at key decision-making points, means that not all children receive a consistently good service,” said the report following the focused visit to Dorset which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for children in need and those subject to a child protection plan.
Torbay takes too long to address weaknesses
Torbay children’s services is taking too long to address critical weaknesses, Ofsted has warned.
Previous monitoring visits have revealed that the quality of help and protection for vulnerable children continues to be very concerning at Torbay. The local authority has made some progress to implement the necessary improvements, but the pace of change for children in need of help and protection is too slow, Ofsted said.
“Senior leaders understand the significant weaknesses. They fully accept that progress is too slow and has stalled in some areas. Audit activity has increased, but there is some confusion about what constitutes good practice, and there is little or no consideration given to the impact on children’s lived experiences. Ineffective and uncoordinated systems to analyse audit outcomes or impact on practice impede the local authority’s ability to track or sustain progress. These are serious shortcomings,” said the report.
Evidence of improvement at Reading but practice remains variable
There has been evidence of improvement in most areas of practice at Reading children’s services since the last Ofsted inspection.
A children’s services inspection found that Reading children’s services were judged inadequate in 2016. Frequent, and often sudden, changes in the senior leadership team since then have hampered progress in improving services for children.
This, combined with the high turnover of frontline staff, has meant that improvements, when they have been made, have not always been sustained. Some children have experienced too many changes of social workers, which have contributed to delays in improving their circumstances or have led to children disengaging from their worker.
“Recent practice is stronger but remains variable. Early help services, which were a strength at the last inspection, continue to provide children with well-targeted interventions, and the establishment of the multi-agency hub has contributed to a reduction in the number of referrals to children’s statutory services. Senior leaders have rightly focused on strengthening the recruitment and retention of staff, caseloads are reducing, and there has been an increase in management capacity,” said the report.