Services for children in Portsmouth have improved since the last Ofsted inspection and have been rated as 'good' by the inspectorate.
Despite increasing demand, leaders have made good progress in establishing a resilient and sustainable service, said inspectors.
"The senior leadership team articulate a clear, shared vision and set of values," said the report. "They are ambitious and have an accurate and realistic understanding of the strengths and areas for development of the service. They use this knowledge well to actively improve services."
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection is good.
- An increasing number of children and families access support from a wide range of early help services that provide effective support and practical help to prevent problems increasing.
- The multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) provides an effective response when children’s needs increase.
- A stable and sufficient workforce ensures that social workers have the capacity to visit children proportionately to their needs.
- When concerns about children’s welfare increase, social workers act promptly to assess risk and take effective protective action.
- Social workers recognise contextual safeguarding risks well.
However, the report noted that child protection plans are not clear enough about what needs to be achieved, the specific actions required, or the timescales for completion. Further, while there is an effective response to children who go missing from home, but the quality and timeliness of return home interviews are not yet consistently good enough.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers is good.
The report recognised:
- The local authority’s well-embedded restorative model of practice draws on families’ strengths, focusing on maintaining children in their families wherever possible.
- When children need to come into care, decisions are based on a comprehensive assessment of risk and need.
- Foster carer recruitment, training and approval are effective.
- Social workers have good relationships with children.
- Education is promoted for children in care and the virtual school is increasingly effective in ensuring that children make good progress.
- Care leavers benefit from a specialist service that is increasingly responsive to their needs.
However, managers are aware that employment, education and training rates for care leavers are too low. A dedicated progression adviser is proactive in increasing opportunities for young people to develop employment-ready skills.
The report also notes that despite some concerted work since the last inspection, some children in care continue to engage in offending behaviours.
Further, the quality of recording of children’s care plans and reviews is variable. Some are not sufficiently specific and lack clarity about the timescales in which actions need to be achieved.
The report states that the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is good and the local authority has made sustained improvements to the quality of services to children and families since its last inspection in 2014.
Led by the director of children’s services (DCS), senior leaders have established strong relationships with each other. Partnerships at both strategic and operational levels are strong.
The report highlights:
- The local authority’s approach to improvement is reflective and systematic.
- Quality assurance activity was effective in identifying performance issues in the children with disabilities team.
- A strong focus on performance management continuously drives improvement.
- There has been concerted effort across the partnership to ensure a joined-up response to children who are vulnerable to exploitation and those who go missing.
- Corporate parenting has been strengthened.
However, senior leaders and the virtual headteacher are acutely aware that unauthorised absence is a persistent challenge and they have made improving attendance a top priority. A caseworker has been appointed to focus on the problem.
"The local authority has taken the right steps to attract and retain staff at all levels, including newly qualified social workers, who are well supported through their assessed and supported year in employment," said the report.
"Staff report that they are well supported and are positive about working in Portsmouth. Morale across the workforce is good. There are some good examples of analytical and reflective supervision, which helps social workers to work effectively with complex families. Management oversight is evident on the majority of children’s case records," the report concludes.
Ofsted said the length of time that children are subject to pre-proceedings needs improving while child protection plans and care planning need to be clear about what needs to be achieved, by when and what will happen if the situation does not improve for the child.
The effectiveness of child protection conference chairs in responding to escalating risks or identifying when progress is not being made for children also needs prioritising.