A round up of the Ofsted inspections of children's services published in January.
Reduced caseloads at Bedford improves outcomes
Leaders at Bedford children’s services have improved the stability of the social care workforce and reduced social work caseloads, Ofsted has said.
In a focused visit to Bedford Borough Council children’s services, inspectors said that actions taken since the last inspection of children’s services in February 2017 have resulted in improved outcomes for children in need and children in need of protection.
“By investing in key areas, such as the Social Work Academy and new programmes with parents who perpetrate domestic abuse, leaders have been able to develop and retain skilled social workers and strengthen support for vulnerable children,” said the report.
Significant progress made at Kirklees
Kirklees children’s services has made “significant progress” in improving its initial response to children and young people who need help and protection, according to Ofsted.
The latest monitoring visit since the authority was rated inadequate in September 2016 found that strengthened processes and effective management oversight is ensuring robust decision-making.
This is monitored routinely and challenged appropriately, inspectors found.
“Assessment and plans are improved, with more assessments that better identify and evaluate risk and consider the experiences of children,” said the report.
Doncaster ambitious to be ‘outstanding’ at next inspection
Doncaster children’s services has “an appropriate but challenging” ambition of being recognised as outstanding by the next full Ofsted inspection, the inspectorate has said.
In a focused visit to Doncaster children’s services, inspectors found Doncaster council and Doncaster Children’s Services Trust focusing highly effectively on improving its services.
“All of the small number of recommendations made at the last inspection have been fully delivered.
The council and DCST know the quality of their services well,” said the report.
Ofsted rates Isle of Wight ‘good’
Isle of Wight children’s services have been rated as good by Ofsted.
The report said services for children in the Isle of Wight have improved since the single inspection in 2014, when they required improvement to be good.
“The strategic partnership between the Isle of Wight Council and Hampshire County Council has brought stable and consistent leadership, increased resilience and a firm focus on continual improvement,” said the report.
“Highly skilled, ambitious senior leaders have a clear, shared vision and an accurate understanding of the strengths and areas for improvement of the service. Together with political leaders, they have responded well to growing demands, creating a stable and permanent workforce,” it added.
Practice improvements evident at Plymouth
Significant practice improvements are evident in a number of areas in Plymouth children’s services that were previously identified as weak, Ofsted has said.
Since the single inspection framework (SIF) inspection in 2014 and the focused visit in 2018, senior leaders have taken clear action to improve the quality of social work practice, and the vast majority of children, young people and families in Plymouth get the right help at the right time, the inspection report said.
However, Plymouth still requires improvement to be good.
“Senior leaders have a good understanding of strengths and areas for improvement,” said the report. “There has been significant progress in establishing an environment in which good social work can flourish by significantly reducing social workers’ workloads, increasing management capacity and providing a wide range of learning and development opportunities.”
Services at Nottingham have improved but further work needed
A range of services have improved for children in Nottingham since the last full inspection in 2014, according to Ofsted.
An inspection of children’s social care services Nottingham City Council found that there are areas of good practice across the service, but also important areas where improvements are required to ensure that all children get the right support at the right time.
“Areas for improvement are not always understood by leaders or addressed with sufficient urgency. Planning for children and the pace of change to improve children’s lives are not strong enough to achieve good outcomes for all children,” said the report. “Some children live for too long in homes where they are neglected. A small group of very young children have been left vulnerable in unsuitable private fostering arrangements.”
Furthermore, there are not enough social workers to deliver high-quality interventions, given the complexity of need in the city. The systems in place are not good enough to ensure that all children in care are supported to achieve good education outcomes or timely permanence.
Buckinghamshire shows early signs of improvement
Buckinghamshire children’s services is beginning to demonstrate some early signs of improvement in some parts of the service providing help and protection for children, Ofsted has said.
However, in the second monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate for overall effectiveness in January 2018, inspectors said onsiderable pressures on capacity are evident in some parts of the service and the quality of assessment, planning and intervention remains too variable.
“Since the last monitoring visit, leaders have continued to respond purposefully to the critical weaknesses in services for children in need of help and protection in Buckinghamshire. The senior leadership team continues to maintain a clear focus on how best to improve children’s services and have the political support to deliver this,” said the report.
Ofsted praises Essex as outstanding
Essex children’s services has been judged to be ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, which said services for children have continued to improve since the previous inspection in 2014.
Senior leaders know their communities and services well and are responsive to children’s changing needs and national thinking about best practice, the inspection of children’s services found.
“Inspirational senior leaders, supported by good corporate and political support and strong partnerships, are tenaciously ambitious for children. They have developed a well-trained, highly skilled workforce. The relationship strengths-based practice model is fully embedded and well understood by partner agencies,” said the report.
Essex has combined learning from their own quality assurance and performance management arrangements with peer reviews and inspections to develop a clear self-assessment and to target resources effectively.
Senior leadership team lead improvements in Bromley
A new and highly experienced senior leadership team has driven a rapid and sustained pace of improvement at the London Borough of Bromley, according to Ofsted.
In the last inspection in 2016, children’s services were judged to be inadequate, but the new leadership team has driven change, supported by a whole-council investment in children’s services.
“This has led to vastly improved services for children and families,” said the report. “The executive director and his team, together with strong corporate support from members, have ensured an unwavering focus on continuous improvement.”
“Staff at every level have high aspirations for the children who receive services in Bromley,” it added.
Better information sharing found at West Berkshire
The co-location of partners in the MASH at West Berkshire since the last inspection has enabled more efficient and effective information-sharing, Ofsted has said.
A focused visit of the authority which looked at arrangements for children who need help and protection, found decisions made when children are first referred to children’s services are appropriate, correctly overseen by managers and lead to prompt and effective action to safeguard children when this is necessary.
“Changes in the senior leadership team have been well managed and have not had a negative impact on the quality of practice seen during this visit. Senior leaders have identified that further work is needed to fully implement the new early help strategy. They have also recognised that improvements are needed in the audit system,” said the report.
Redcar and Cleveland improve response to children needing protection
Senior managers at Redcar and Cleveland have acted to improve their response when children need help and protection since the last Ofsted inspection, the inspectorate has said.
The functions of the first contact team have been reviewed and restructured and the team now undertakes assessments as well as reviewing contacts and referrals, the focused visit to Redcar and Cleveland local authority children’s services found.
“There is increased management capacity and strengthened performance information and quality assurance,” said the report. “However, increasing workloads, recruitment challenges, budgetary pressures, and a lack of robust improvement planning have impeded the pace of change.”
Care leavers’ support at Redbridge is inconsistent
The quality of the support that care leavers receive in the London Borough of Redbridge is not consistent, Ofsted has said.
The service is delivered through a partnership arrangement, and since the last inspection in 2016, there have been significant gaps in management, which have impacted on service development and delivery.
“Managers have focused successfully on compliance issues, but there has not been a sufficient focus on quality. Although senior managers are aware of the areas which require improvement and have appropriate plans in place, there has been a lack of pace in implementing and embedding the changes,” said the report.
Blackpool rated as inadequate
Longstanding and widespread failures in the quality of social work practice at Blackpool mean that many children are not having their needs responded to in the right way or at the right time, Ofsted has warned.
An inspection of children’s services found that as a result, some children live in situations of chronic neglect for long periods of time. Their situations do not always improve and, for many, they deteriorate, resulting in poor outcomes and increased risk. For some children, the impact is serious, with children suffering additional harm that affects their health and development.
“Since the last inspection in 2014, the pace of progress has been too slow, and there has been a decline in strategic leadership,” said the report. By the time a new director of children’s services was appointed 17 months ago, standards of practice had seriously deteriorated. Although there has been a focus on improvement since then, it has not led to the level of improvement required to ensure safe and effective services for all children.
Improvement required for children in care at Wirral
The scale of improvement required for children in care at Wirral children’s services is greater than at the last inspection, Ofsted has warned.
At the time of the inspection in 2016, the judgement for the experiences of children in care was that it required improvement to be good. However, previous monitoring visits have reported that, following inspection, additional deficits in practice were also identified by the local authority. This, in addition to an increase in the numbers of children in care since the inspection, had led to an increase in the scale of improvement required, the report said.
“At this monitoring visit, inspectors found that while the local authority has put better systems in place, this has not yet resulted in improved permanence planning for children. Progress for care leavers is stronger, with evidence of service developments starting to make a positive impact for young people,” said the monitoring visit which looked at the experiences of children in care and care leavers.
Considerable improvements noted for children in care at Tower Hamlets
Effective action taken by leaders and managers at Tower Hamlets following the August monitoring visit has led to considerable improvements in the quality of social work practice for children in care, Ofsted has said.
Permanence planning for those children who are unable to live safely with their birth parents is being progressed more quickly. All permanence options, including special guardianship orders and adoption, are beginning to be considered simultaneously.
“Children who leave care in Tower Hamlets benefit from advice and support from a stable and highly committed group of personal advisers, social workers and managers, who know them well. Senior managers accept that their ambitious plans to reconfigure the care leavers’ service need to progress more quickly,” said the report.
Birmingham children’s services have improved
Birmingham children’s services has made progress from a low base in improving the quality of services to children and families, Ofsted has said.
The local authority, the shadow board, and since its inception in April 2018, Birmingham Children’s Trust (BCT) have made good use of monitoring visits since the 2016 inspection, and many of the recommendations for improvement from that inspection have been acted on effectively.
“The delegation of statutory functions to BCT has enabled the re-vitalisation of both practice and working culture, and, as a result, progress has been made in improving the experiences and progress of children,” said the report.
Worcestershire improves services for children who go missing
Worcestershire has made progress in improving its services for children and young people who are at risk from sexual exploitation and those children and young people who go missing, according to Ofsted.
Children at risk of child sexual exploitation and going missing are proactively worked with in order to identify and reduce risk, the seventh and final monitoring visit of the local authority since it was judged inadequate in November 2016 found.
“As a result of a more effective approach to children going missing, overall numbers of children going missing and repeat missing episodes have reduced. Social workers know their children well. Reflective supervision is aiding a better understanding of children’s lives and vulnerabilities,” said the report.