Services for children and families in Lincolnshire are outstanding, Ofsted has said, demonstrating the progress that leaders have made since the previous inspection in 2014, when the service was judged good overall.
Leaders have responded well to the findings of a focused visit and have implemented a new quality assurance framework which has delivered improvements to services for children, the inspection of children's services found.
"An insightful, highly motivated and extremely child-centred senior leadership team has been relentless in its quest to improve the life experiences of and chances for children in the county," said the report.
The model of practice that is thoroughly embedded in children’s services is understood, valued and used by a very stable, highly skilled workforce and by partners. This, as well as investment in high-quality early help, and the development of several innovative projects, is making a tangible and positive difference to the lives of children and families
in Lincolnshire, Ofsted added.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection is good. Inspectors highlighted:
- A creative and responsive early help service is providing children and families in Lincolnshire with effective help and support and the early help offer is well understood by partners.
- The recently established and effective multi-professional Futures4Me service for vulnerable adolescents is reducing risk for vulnerable children, including those who are on the edge of care.
- Children and families receive a prompt and proportionate response to initial contacts made to the integrated front door.
- When concerns about children’s welfare increase, social workers act promptly to assess risk.
- Child protection enquiries are effective and timely in reducing risk to children.
- Assessments are timely, comprehensive and of good quality.
- The response and support that disabled children receive in Lincolnshire is very strong.
The report states that some arrangements for vulnerable groups of young people are well developed and effective, for example responses to risks relating to radicalisation, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation. Arrangements for some other vulnerable groups have recently benefited from review, with initiatives implemented to develop practice. For example, in relation to children who are at risk of child exploitation and those who go missing, new workers, systems and tools have been developed to improve responses and reduce risk. It is too early to see the full impact of this. Although training is planned to help staff use a new child exploitation screening tool, its use is inconsistent, meaning that some children’s needs are not fully considered in order to inform assessments and safety plans.
Similarly, the quality of return home interviews following missing incidents is inconsistent. While there is some consideration of push/pull factors, the information obtained from discussions with children who go missing is not always used to inform subsequent plans robustly enough. This is a missed opportunity to reduce risk further.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers is outstanding. The report states:
- Children only come into care when it is necessary and appropriate for them to do so. The ethos of the local authority is that children should remain at home wherever possible.
- When admissions to care are necessary, most are planned, following high quality assessments that identify children’s vulnerabilities and needs.
- Adoption is considered in a timely way, and children are matched and placed with adoptive parents at the earliest opportunity.
- When children come into care, social workers can draw on a wide range of available foster homes that are able to provide a high standard of care for children.
- The very small minority of children who live outside of Lincolnshire do so because this best meets their needs, such as unaccompanied young people where it is better to match their cultural needs outside of Lincolnshire.
- Children in care build strong, consistent and extremely positive relationships with their social workers and carers.
- Children and care leavers are well supported to stay safe.
- Care leavers report that their workers in the care leavers service are providing them with helpful and effective support in all aspects of their lives.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is outstanding. Inspectors highlighted:
- Leaders prioritise the needs of Lincolnshire children and act as excellent corporate parents who have the highest aspirations for their children in care.
- The senior leadership team has an excellent understanding of its service, as evidenced in its comprehensive self-evaluation which accurately reflects the local authority’s strengths and areas that it seeks to further develop.
- Partnerships are extremely strong. Strategic partners engage well with service re-design to improve children’s experiences and outcomes.
- The senior leadership team is ambitious and forward-thinking. Members of the team promote best practice and fully explore all learning opportunities.
- Investment in the children’s workforce has been instrumental in delivering increasingly stable and experienced teams of practitioners.
- Caseloads are manageable across all teams, staff benefit from an extensive range of training which has developed their competence, skills and confidence in communicating with children and families.
- Inspectors have been extremely impressed by the exceptional direct work undertaken with children that conveys their experiences so well.
"A relentless focus on improving the quality of frontline management oversight and staff supervision has been successful, resulting in staff feeling very well supported," said the report. "Staff are unanimously positive about and committed to working for Lincolnshire. Staff turnover is low. The senior leadership team recognises the importance of being visible and accessible, and, as a result of the highly supportive, yet highly challenging, environment created, the workforce feels valued and proud to work in Lincolnshire."
"The inclusion of children’s drawings and high-quality direct work in their electronic records brings to life children’s views and experiences and helps convey their journeys and progress. This is outstanding practice," the report concluded.
In order to improve practice, Lincolnshire should improve the quality and consistency of support and advice to children and vulnerable adolescents who may go missing, present as homeless or who are at risk of exploitation and address the quality and consistency of pathway plans for care leavers.
Lincolnshire County Council
Inspection of children’s social care services