Norfolk’s adoption services has been rated as outstanding as the authority has moved out of an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted grade to ‘requires improvement to be good’.
A re-inspection of Norfolk’s children’s services found “a significant increase in the pace of change,” over the past 12 months following a “faltering start” after the authority was graded inadequate in July 2015.
“The support for children looked after, care leavers and children with a plan for adoption has improved and most receive timely, effective help. However, these services still require improvement to be good. The service provided to children with a plan for adoption is outstanding,” said the report.
However, improvements in the services that support children in need of help and protection are less evident, the report found. Partners do not yet demonstrate a consistent understanding of thresholds despite concerted efforts by the Safeguarding Children Board.
Urgent safeguarding concerns referred to the MASH result in immediate action, yet the response to lower-level concerns is much less timely. Most children in need of protective action receive effective support. However, shortfalls in capacity, combined with rising referrals, have resulted in high caseloads in some assessment teams, which has impacted on the capacity to progress work in a timely manner.
The strategic response to children missing and at risk of sexual exploitation is underdeveloped, inspectors found.
Investment in services for children on the edge of care means that support enables children to remain with their families where possible. When this is not appropriate, decisions for them to be looked after are timely and appropriate.
Comprehensive assessments support early permanence planning for the vast majority of children. A high number of children have benefited from a highly effective ‘foster to adopt’ service, which ensures that children achieve permanence at the earliest opportunity. Highly effective support and assessment are provided both for children with a plan for adoption and for adopters.
“Strenuous efforts” to build a stable, skilled workforce are beginning to secure positive results and continued investment in Norfolk’s Institute for Practice Excellence ensures good-quality support to newly qualified social workers when they start working in children’s services.
The newly appointed DCS demonstrates “strong leadership skills and commitment to drive the improvement required to the next stage”. She is also prioritising recruiting a skilled, permanent leadership team.
Sara Tough, Executive Director of Children’s Services, said: “Since joining Norfolk County Council it has been clear that staff here are ambitious and determined to do their best for Norfolk’s children and I would like to thank them for their continued hard work.
“Our department is well on the way to achieving the good judgement that we all want to see for Norfolk’s children and this report fairly reflects what we are doing well and where we still need to improve. We are already addressing these areas – we have increased capacity in the MASH and our efforts to recruit and retain more social workers are bearing fruit and can only be helped by this judgement.
“Our adoption service is now outstanding, having being judged as requires improvement less than three years ago. That demonstrates that we have the capacity and ambition to deliver the very best services for our children.”
Ofsted recommends that Norfolk:
- Ensures that children are able to establish and maintain meaningful relationships with their social workers and benefit from the consistency and continuity that a settled and stable workforce, with manageable caseloads, provides.
- Ensures sufficient capacity and effective systems in the MASH to support timely decision-making in response to contacts and referrals.
- Ensures that the right agencies are involved in strategy discussions, that they clearly set out whether child protection enquiries are needed and that the rationale for such decisions and the next steps are recorded.
- Strengthens the response to children who go missing and/or are at risk of sexual exploitation.
- Progresses work with health partners to ensure the timely assessment of children’s health needs when they first enter care and that care leavers are consistently provided with information about their health histories.
- Ensures that the sufficiency action plan is specific, measureable and underpinned by an accurate assessment of need to effectively inform strategic commissioning intentions.
- Implements a system for ensuring that the authorisation of private fostering arrangements includes oversight of core checks and that the managers’ rationale for decisions is clearly recorded.
Penny Carpenter, Chair of the Children’s Services Committee, said: “When I started as Chair of Children’s Services, I said that improving Children’s Services was mission possible. Today, we’ve proven that, thanks to the hard work of our staff, foster carers, councillors and everyone else involved. We’re not complacent – we’ve got to make further improvements – but getting to good is in sight.
"We are investing £12m over the next four years to build on this significant progress, develop greater resilience in families and reduce the number of children in our care. That investment highlights our commitment to continue to improve services for children and young people,” she concluded.