Most children who require help and protection services in Nottinghamshire receive effective support, but the local authority has not successfully sustained good services for all children, Ofsted has said.
At the last inspection in 2015, Nottinghamshire was judged to be good across all service areas, except for care leavers. Good practice has been maintained for children in care, and the care leavers service has been transformed, the inspection of children's services found.
"While a focus on some large-scale service areas has resulted in improvement, other smaller defined areas of practice have not received the same attention. Progress in improving these discrete areas of practice has been limited," said the report.
Political and corporate support has remained a strength for children’s services, with continued financial backing and increased commitment from district councils. Some notable achievements have been secured, such as increasing and stabilising the workforce.
Most children, especially those in care or who are care leavers, receive a good service. Social workers know children and families well. Good-quality direct work ensures that children’s views are heard and acted on. Early help support is effective, and children in need of urgent protection receive a swift and appropriate response.
The local authority has accurately identified areas that require further improvement. Leaders recognise the need to develop multi-agency involvement in strategy meetings and that further work is required to meet the needs of privately fostered children. Steps have already been taken to increase the workforce in geographical areas where social work practice is weaker, but it will take time to ensure that improvements are made in quality and the consistency of practice.
Leaders have taken steps to accelerate plans, already in existence, to address the weaker areas of practice identified in this inspection and in previous inspection visits.
The overall effectiveness of the local authority is good. The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement to be good. Inspectors highlighted:
- Early help services are effective and make a positive difference to children.
- Children identified as being in need of urgent protection and considered to be at risk of significant harm receive a quick and effective response from the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH).
- Once contacts become a referral and children have been identified as requiring children’s social care intervention, effective management oversight ensures seamless transition on to the relevant service.
- Most children who require ongoing help and protection get a good response, and the standard of support services is high.
- Children’s plans are subject to regular, well-structured, multi-agency reviews.
- For the majority of children, appropriate action is taken to initiate the pre-proceedings stage of the public law outline (PLO) when risks to children increase.
- Clear efforts are made by social workers to address the individual needs of children in large sibling groups in court assessments and statements.
- Disabled children are well supported by a dedicated team of social workers with specialist knowledge and understanding of their and their family’s needs.
- There is a good range of suitable accommodation for young people aged 16 or 17 years who present as homeless.
- The local authority works sensitively with its communities to respond appropriately to concerns about children affected by female genital mutilation and honour-based violence.
However, when safeguarding concerns for children are identified and the threshold for multi-agency decision-making is met, strategy discussions are not always held or considered. The rationale for not convening a strategy discussion is not clearly recorded in children’s records.
The quality of social work practice varies across the county. The lack of a consistently robust response in some parts of the local authority means that, for a small number of children, their circumstances do not improve in the same way or as quickly as they do for children in other areas.
Although assessment timeliness is improving, the quality of assessments is variable. Stronger assessments are informed by the child’s family history and demonstrate understanding of the impact of significant events for individual children, resulting in direct help for families. Weaker assessments are too simplistic; they lack professional curiosity and fail to analyse repeated patterns of neglectful behaviour.
For a small number of children experiencing long-term neglect action to initiate the pre-proceedings stage of the public law outline (PLO) when risks to children increase has taken too long.
While the local authority has made some progress in raising the profile of children living in private fostering arrangements, more needs to be done to improve the identification, assessment and ongoing work with these children and their carers. Current arrangements are not sufficiently robust and do not ensure that all children have a timely assessment of needs or the opportunity to see their social workers alone.
Most children considered to be vulnerable to the risk of sexual and criminal exploitation have a completed risk assessment, but the quality of these tools varies, and identified risks are not always appropriately escalated.
The report adds that most children who go missing from home are offered a return home interview but the number of children taking part in return interviews is proportionately low, and those that are completed are not consistently detailed enough to inform safety planning.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers is good. The report highlights:
- Services for children in care have continued to develop since the last inspection, with more significant improvements in the local authority’s offer and support for care leavers.
- Permanence planning is well considered and entered into in a timely manner to ensure that children move into permanent care arrangements at the earliest opportunity.
- Children are visited regularly in line with statutory requirements, and often more frequently. Recording of visits to children is thoughtful and thorough, demonstrating positive interactions.
- Children living at home on care orders are subject to rigorous assessments and reviews under the scrutiny of the court or placement with parents’ regulations. Children placed at home are not left to drift for extended periods, and revocation of care order hearings are sought within reasonable timescales.
- Children’s reviews are held within statutory timescales and are effective and generally well-attended.
- Strong work is evident where children in care are at risk of child sexual exploitation. Thorough child sexual exploitation risk assessments are completed, and multi-agency strategy meetings are effective.
- Comprehensive life-story work is undertaken with children so that they understand their own and wider family history. This is routinely in place for children placed for adoption, but is not yet prevalent for all children who have been in care for longer periods.
- Care leavers value the effective support they receive from the care leavers service. Skilled, experienced personal advisers (PAs) ensure that care leavers are well prepared and supported during their transition to adulthood.
However, the report states that a small number of children who have experienced long-term neglect have waited too long before entering care, although once in care, like most other children, they make good progress.
While most children who return home from care do so in a safe and planned way, a small number of children leave s20 accommodation in an unplanned way. In these, cases management oversight and assessments of risk are not always evident in order to ensure the appropriate level of support is made available to these children and families.
All children have an overarching care plan, but the quality of these varies. Many are comprehensive and clearly evidence that appropriate help and support is in place. Others do not contain enough detail to provide a clear and ambitious focus of work with children.
The report says that personal education plans (PEPs) are inconsistent in quality and content. Children therefore do not benefit from this additional oversight and scrutiny in order to maximise their academic performance and to ensure that their whole education experience is successfully supported.
A small number of children live with family and friends carers who have not been fully assessed or formally approved. Senior management scrutiny and IRO oversight of these children in unregistered placements is insufficient, the report adds. Furthermore, these carers do not all receive the necessary support, development and training to help them to effectively care for children.
Pathway plans are reviewed regularly and focus on progressing important priorities. Young people’s views are integrated throughout plans, ensuring that they are meaningful to young people. However, when care leavers are at risk of exploitation, this is not always addressed sufficiently well, and opportunities to understand risk more fully through specialist screening are missed, the report adds.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is good. The report highlights:
- Stable leadership and strong political support have ensured that Nottinghamshire local authority has made improvements in most services for children and their families since the last inspection.
- Children’s services remain a priority for the council, and budgets continue to be protected, relieving some of the pressures on services.
- The vast majority of children in care are well cared for and live in stable placements that meet their needs and that support them to do well.
- Services for care leavers have now been transformed. Regular staff supervision and management oversight is evident on most case records, steering work for children and leading to improvements in the timeliness of assessments and reviews.
- Partnerships are strong at a strategic level, strengthened through the challenging agendas that senior council leaders and partners have had to work through together, including the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA).
- Nottinghamshire has successfully led on and now manages the staff in the regional adoption agency (D2N2), which was established in April this year. Local arrangements are strong and enable effective oversight by managers to assure themselves of the quality of the services being delivered for Nottinghamshire
children and families.
- Regular performance management meetings and direct contact with staff provide leaders with regularly updated practice information. Team managers and workers use performance information to support practice.
- Nottinghamshire’s self-evaluation of practice gives an accurate reflection of work across the county. The council knows itself well and has clear priorities to strengthen practice to improve all services for children and their families.
- Frontline social workers’ caseloads are steadily reducing, and most workers describe their workloads as manageable. Social work capacity has been increased, and practice consultants and additional support roles have been created.
"Staff value Nottinghamshire’s training offer. They receive regular and relevant training opportunities, which are developing their professional knowledge and practice," said the report. "Staff receive regular supervision and management support, which they highly value and which assists them in progressing children’s plans."
Ofsted recommends Nottinghamshire improves the quality of strategy discussions and meetings so that they are always timely, involve all relevant partners and are well recorded.
The consistency of social work practice in all geographical areas of the county needs addressing as does the awareness of, and social work response to, safeguarding privately fostered children.
The assessments, support and oversight of children in care placed with family and friend carers needs improving, the report concludes.
Nottinghamshire County Council
Inspection of local authority children’s services