Hillingdon children’s services have been praised for significantly improving since the previous inspection as Ofsted has rated the authority good.
An “impressive pace of change” has resulted in services of consistently good quality provided by skilled and highly motivated staff, supported by purposeful corporate investment and commitment, Ofsted found.
“Leaders know their services well and were already aware of and acting on the small number of weaker aspects of the service noted by inspectors,” said the report.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families was rated as outstanding while the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection and the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers was rated as good, contributing to an overall effectiveness ‘good’ grade.
For children requiring help and protection, inspectors highlighted that:
- Children and their families benefit from a good early help offer and have access to a broad range of preventive and targeted services.
- Partners have a good understanding of thresholds when making referrals, and these are consistently applied for children in need of help and protection.
- Children and families receive a good, timely response from the referral and assessment service.
- The vast majority of assessments are timely, comprehensive and of good quality.
- When risks to children escalate, the majority of strategy discussions are timely and result in the right actions for children to safeguard their welfare.
- Staff take effective action to reduce risks to children who are considered highly vulnerable and at risk of child exploitation.
- Plans for children in need of help and protection are a significant strength and are of excellent quality.
For the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, Ofsted noted:
When children need to be looked after, they receive effective and sensitive intervention.
- Children subject to the public law outline and care proceedings benefit from exceptionally strong intervention work.
- Children’s care plans are an area of considerable strength.
- The majority of children benefit from timely and well-considered options for permanence.
- Leaders have good ambition for care leavers and children in care.
Regarding the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, which is judged as outstanding, the report outlines that:
- Senior managers are held to account through a clear governance structure.
- The senior management oversight provided by the Hillingdon access to resources panel (HARP) is particularly impressive.
- Leaders have an excellent understanding of children at risk of exploitation, including those reported as missing from home, school and care.
- Staff are tenacious, skilled and thoughtful, showing a strong commitment to the delivery of good services to children.
The workforce strategy is effective, resulting in increased numbers of permanent staff, which means that children have fewer changes of social worker.
“Staff report, and inspectors found, that they have manageable caseloads and leaders have worked extremely hard to ensure that social workers maintain a consistent relationship with children. While supervision of frontline practice is not always consistently recorded in children’s records, the vast majority of work with children receives effective frontline management oversight,” the report concluded.
In order to improve social work practice, Hillingdon should focus on the quality of initial strategy discussions so that all relevant partner information is included in order to inform decision-making. The authority should also improve the timeliness and quality of return home interviews when children are reported missing from home and care.
Hillingdon should improve the understanding of children in care regarding their rights to complain and access independent advocacy and should provide timely and effective permanence plans for all children, including those who live permanently in a long-term foster placement.
Cllr David Simmonds, Cabinet Member for Education and Children's Services at Hillingdon, said: “In recent years we have redoubled our efforts to put all children who need social care support at the very heart of every decision we make. I'm delighted that Ofsted has recognised this work, and that ultimately children in Hillingdon are receiving the level of help and support they need and deserve.
“I am also pleased that our multi-agency working was singled out for praise, as we see it as vital to giving high quality, well-rounded services, not just in children's services but right across social care and beyond.”
Cllr Simmonds added: “While we are delighted with our progress, we aren't complacent and have already taken on board Ofsted's recommendations, bolstering our work in the areas they've identified. Children remain our priority and we will continue to strive for excellence.”