Children and families in Gateshead receive a good-quality service with good practice within most areas of the service, which has a demonstrably positive impact on improving children and family’s circumstances, according to Ofsted.
There are well-established multiagency partnerships, thresholds are well understood and applied, ensuring that families receive the right help in a timely way and there is a resolute focus on the child, which is threaded through all levels of the service.
The Ofsted report following the inspection of children's services explained that following the last inspection in 2015, when the local authority was judged good overall, the service experienced almost two years of instability, with four changes of Director of Children’s Services and loss of staff in the broader workforce. This, combined with funding pressures and decisions to make cuts in some back-office services, resulted in a deterioration in the quality of some service provision. The new DCS, in post for 18 months, focused initially on creating firm foundations from which to make the necessary improvements.
"There is now a strong and effective senior leadership team that has delivered tangible improvements to both the quality and impact of social work practice, and the experiences and progress of children is now good. Subsequently, senior leaders have systematically tackled shortfalls in practice in relation to performance management and practice standards, and strengthened service provision in relation to early help, children in need and domestic abuse services," said the report.
"There is a renewed focus on quality, resulting in improved experiences for most children. However, some of the changes that leaders have introduced are still relatively new and, because of this, it is too soon to see an impact," it added.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection is rated as good. Inspectors highlighted:
- Early help arrangements in Gateshead are a strength.
- The daily screening of all police notifications, including domestic abuse concerns, is effective and means that children receive an appropriate and timely response, with the swift identification of services.
- Children in need, and those in need of protection, are quickly allocated to the newly formed assessment and intervention teams.
- The protocol for unborn babies is effective and is ensuring good oversight, support and risk identification, meaning that vulnerable babies and families are receiving timely support.
- The response to domestic abuse has been strengthened through the merging of children’s and adults’ resources to form a domestic abuse team that is dedicated to supporting the whole family.
- Most assessments are timely, thorough and analytical, leading to effective and timely planning and intervention.
- Managers provide clear guidance and direction at different stages of the work.
- When children’s circumstances do not improve, there is mostly timely and appropriate initiation of pre-proceedings through the public law outline (PLO).
- The vast majority of children who go missing from home or care receive a good service.
- Other vulnerable children receive a good level of support. Homeless 16- and 17-year-olds receive a child-focused service to ensure that their needs are met effectively.
However, while supervision is regular, it is not always being effectively used to improve the quality of social work practice, for example when plans are not good enough, or there is not a consistent focus on what is making a difference to children’s circumstances.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers is good. The report says:
- When children come into care, decision-making is timely, ensuring that most children live in safe, stable, permanent and good quality-homes if they cannot live with their families.
- Assessments are mostly timely, comprehensive and increasingly analytical, and lead to appropriately focused help that is well informed by children’s views.
- Children benefit from well-planned and supported contact with family members, which is supporting placement stability.
- Children benefit from the help and support they receive from highly skilled, committed and knowledgeable staff.
- When children are placed out of area, it is usually within close distance in neighbouring authorities and children are well supported in these placements.
- Permanence planning and stability for children in care are good.
- When it is recognised that a child could benefit from adoption, this is progressed swiftly for most children.
- There has been some significant positive improvement in the care leavers service since the Ofsted focused visit in March 2018.
However, greater scrutiny is needed by Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) and managers to ensure consistent quality of plans for children in care. Furthermore, the emotional health needs of some children in care are not being adequately met by the provision of a child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS).
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is good.
- The director of children’s services, the chief executive and the lead portfolio holder have ensured that children and the work of children’s services are corporate priorities.
- The local authority knows itself well and has a well-informed self-evaluation that is updated appropriately.
- There has been considerable development of quality assurance processes, which had deteriorated prior to the arrival of the DCS at the end of 2017.
- The DCS and chief executive have developed a strong culture of learning.
- There is a stable and skilled workforce that is enthusiastic about working in Gateshead.
However, the report notes that while management oversight of social work practice has improved, supervision is not being used consistently to improve quality and focus on what is making a difference to children.
Ofsted recommends that managers’ and independent reviewing officers’ challenge the quality of social work practice, including more effective use of supervision when practice falls short.
The quality and focus of written plans need to improve to ensure that they are specific and targeted to meet the needs of individual children, to include pathway plans that are co-produced with young people to address all risks, and life-story work to help all children in care understand their histories.
The pace of change in relation to, and the quality of services for, disabled children needs to accelerate and Gateshead needs to improve access to services for those children in care who live out of the borough, including the timely return of personal education plans from schools outside of the borough.
Gateshead Borough Council
Inspection of children’s social care services