Suffolk's children's services have been rated as outstanding by Ofsted.
Stable and aspirational leadership and strong political and financial support have created conditions that are conductive to continuous improvement and the development of sustainable, high-quality services, the report said.
"Services for children are of an exceptionally high standard. They are child-focused and make a positive difference to children’s lives. Workers build positive and purposeful working relationships with children and their families. They ensure that children are safeguarded, and that their wider needs are addressed. They consistently act to ensure the best outcomes for children," said the report.
Workforce management is also a strength and the ethos of supporting children is reflected in the support offered to staff, with effective training, supervision and opportunities for development.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection is outstanding.
- Children and their families are served well by an impressive range of early help provision.
- When change is not evident, or risk increases, there is appropriate escalation to a statutory response.
- The multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) is well established and partners know how and when to refer to children’s social care.
- Social workers and early help staff produce good-quality assessments that demonstrate professional curiosity, and accurately reflect children’s current circumstances and needs.
- Children’s plans are of good quality, regularly updated and contain realistic goals, with clear actions to improve outcomes for children.
- Management oversight of work is good. Supervision takes place regularly and is effective in providing critical challenge and clear direction, and in monitoring the progress of work.
- Disabled children and young people in receipt of a social work service are very well supported.
- Support for families affected by domestic abuse is impressive.
However, the report said that the introduction of the local authority’s new case management system, while successful in other areas, has had a negative impact on the timeliness with which less urgent work in the MASH is progressed. Interim arrangements created additional pressures for staff and resulted in slowing down the workflow. This was exacerbated in recent weeks by staff changes and cover arrangements, which in turn has meant that, in some cases, children presenting with lower risks have been waiting too long in the MASH for a decision regarding follow up and services.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers was rated as good.
- Children in care and care leavers are supported well by stable teams of highly committed staff, who build trusting and caring relationships with them.
- Children become looked after when it is appropriate for them to do so.
- .Children’s assessments are analytical and detailed; they are informed by research, involve children and families and include other professionals’ views.
- The local authority has effectively established a strong ethos of permanence across the service.
- The help and support that care leavers receive is much better than at the time of the last inspection.
- Managers and staff work persistently to build and maintain meaningful relationships with care leavers.
The local authority is making good progress with health, housing and other partners to deliver on the promises made in the local offer for care leavers. However, the current leaving care service development plan is not outcome focused, sufficiently specific or measurable, and performance management information about young people’s experiences and progress is under-developed. These gaps have the potential to undermine accountability and limit the pace of change.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families was rated as outstanding.
- Leaders are ambitious for children and families and, along with staff, share a common commitment to continuous improvement.
- Senior leaders have a realistic and accurate understanding of strengths and areas for development.
- Senior leaders continue to provide a clear strategic lead, working well with partners to transform the experiences and progress of children and families.
- One of the keys to Suffolk’s success is its willingness to embrace purposeful and intelligent innovation.
- At the same time, leaders are focused on the fundamentals of practice and on getting the basics right.
- The local authority makes effective use of performance management information to carefully monitor and evaluate the experiences and progress of children and reporting arrangements are robust.
"The local authority has maintained a strong and effective focus on recruitment and retention. New employees are given an effective induction, including time to complete essential training, shadow colleagues and build up their caseloads gradually. Newly qualified social workers undertaking their assessed and supported year in employment talk very positively about their experiences. Staff turnover has reduced, and there is limited need for agency staff. Increased workforce stability means that children and young people are better able to build and maintain meaningful relationships with their social workers," the report concluded.
Ofsted recommends that to improve practice Suffolk should improve strategic planning and performance management in regard to care leavers.