A “systematic and rigorous approach to improvement” has turned children’s services around in Rotherham, Ofsted has concluded.
The last Ofsted inspection in 2014 identified widespread and serious failures for children in need of help and protection and children looked after. This came after an independent report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham estimated that around 1,400 children were sexually exploited between 1997 and 2013.
“The recruitment of effective senior managers has resulted in sustained improvement. The quality and impact of services for children are transformed. Risks to children are recognised early and responded to, ensuring their safety. The corporate response and associated change in the quality of children’s services has been impressive,” said Ofsted.
The report identified that leaders and senior managers have appropriately prioritised the improvement of key service areas. This includes:
- Ensuring a robust response to risk through the development of a multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH);
- Embedding a culture of performance and quality assurance;
- Stringent senior management oversight of frontline practice; and
- Increased staff stability.
“The local authority is effective in its recruitment and retention of high-quality staff,” said the report. “Enhancing the workforce environment and, in particular, valuing frontline managers and staff have been essential components in securing change for the better.”
Corporate ownership, well-cultivated partner relationships and increased financial investment enable the service to be highly responsive to local needs. This includes the creation of a dedicated multi-agency team to focus on complex abuse work and investment in identifying and supporting children who are at risk of sexual exploitation.
There is a broad range of early help services and there is effective multi-agency response to children in need of help and protection. Children become looked after when they need to be and the number of children becoming looked after has risen because of the improved identification of risk and the focused work on complex abuse, said inspectors. The quality of court work is also improving.
While management oversight is evident, management challenge of the quality of practice and planning for children looked after is not consistently good. For children looked after, assessments are not always up to date and some do not reflect sufficiently the complexity of needs or how these will affect the children’s future requirements. “For some children, a lack of sharpness in care plans can lead to drift and delays in permanence being achieved and broader needs being met,” said the report although it acknowledged that the local authority is working to address these areas of provision that require improvement.
Strong management oversight identifies children who have a plan for adoption. Matched children move in with their new families in a planned way without delay. The report also highlights that Rotherham achieves “excellent outcomes” for a great majority of its care leavers.
The last inspection report for the local authority’s children’s services was published in November 2014. The judgements for the local authority were:
- Overall effectiveness: inadequate
- Children who need help and protection: inadequate
- Children looked after and achieving permanence: inadequate
- Adoption performance: requires improvement
- Experiences and progress of care leavers: inadequate
- Leadership, management and governance: inadequate.
In the latest inspection, children who need help and protection, leadership and adoption were graded good and services for care leavers were graded outstanding. Children looked after ‘require improvement to be good’ but overall effectiveness was good.
The report makes eight recommendations including that Rotherham should:
- Ensure that managers provide challenging, reflective and directive supervision and, with support from independent reviewing officers (IROs) and conference chairs, address the quality of practice and planning for all children effectively.
- Ensure that all assessments are: meaningful to children and their families; reflect the changing needs of children; and effectively evaluate cumulative risks and their impact.
- Ensure that all plans: are clear about how children’s and young people’s holistic needs are to be met; have clear timescales; can be understood by families; and are always well informed by risk assessment.
Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “I’m delighted to see the progress that has been made at Rotherham’s children’s social care, resulting in it being rated ‘good’ by Ofsted.
“For too long, children and young people in Rotherham were failed by the authorities in charge of protecting them, so it is especially pleasing that Ofsted has noted the strong partnership working now in place at the council.
“All those who have delivered such vast and rapid improvements in Rotherham should be rightly proud of their efforts. I look forward to them continuing to drive forward this work to make sure every child is kept safe from harm.”
Ian Thomas, Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services added: “The last report talked about the importance of strong effective leadership and strong governance and to ensure that the standards against which we are measured be widely shared, understood and adhered to.
“We have made these changes and more right across children’s services, which is due to the grip and pace we have insisted upon, no matter how difficult this was at times.
“We will use the recommendations in the report to develop our new action plan as we are determined to build on this judgement and continue to improve. We owe this to the children here in Rotherham today. My thanks go out to all staff here at the Council, not just in children’s services, who have helped us face our challenges. Thanks also to the support we have had from Commissioners, elected members, peers and our partners.
“It is important that our children know that we will not be complacent and that, as we embed the ‘Rotherham Family Approach’ we will continue to ask ourselves, ‘would this be good enough for my child?’” he added.