A round-up of the Ofsted reports of children's services published during March 2019.
Swindon makes progress in care leavers’ services
Swindon children’s services has made some progress for care leavers’ services in most of the areas for improvement highlighted in the last inspection, Ofsted has said.
Senior leaders have a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in the service, supported by the increasingly effective use of management and performance information, the focused visit to Swindon children’s services found.
“Changes to the organisation’s structure, the stabilisation of the senior leadership team and improved partnership working are starting to create the conditions in which good practice can flourish,” said the report following the inspection where inspectors looked at the local authority’s arrangements for supporting care leavers.
Overly adult-focused work found at Hackney
The quality of practice for a substantial number of vulnerable children has not been sustained at the London Borough of Hackney since the last Ofsted inspection in 2016, inspectors have warned.
In 2016, services for children in need of help and protection were judged to be good, however, too many children in too many cases seen are subject to multiple assessments and interventions, sometimes over several years, which do not improve outcomes for children quickly enough.
“In some cases, the determination of workers to work alongside families to achieve change, combined with an overly optimistic assessment of parental ability or willingness to change, has led to overly adult-focused work,” said the report. “In such cases, the child’s lived experience is not given sufficient consideration. Work with avoidant parents, or where disguised compliance is a feature, lacks timely action, and inspectors saw the damaging impact of this drift and delay on children in the majority of the cases considered.”
Oldham requires improvement to be good
Since the last inspection of Oldham children’s services in 2015, strategic leadership has not delivered continuous improvement of services for children, Ofsted has said.
During 2016–17, although leaders had access to performance data, they had insufficient understanding of the quality of social work practice, the inspection of Oldham children’s social care services found. While they recognised that the demand for services was increasing substantially and acted to increase the capacity of frontline staff, this was not sufficient to improve services for children.
“Since the appointment of an interim DCS in March 2018, the local authority has developed an accurate evaluation of the quality of social work practice. Extensive independent auditing revealed that services had deteriorated since the inspection in 2015, and that significant improvement was required. The DCS developed strategic plans for transformation of services, including a structural investment plan and a new operating model,” said the report.
The inspection found that Oldham requires improvement to be good.
Slough makes significant progress
Significant progress has been made by Slough council and Slough Children’s Services Trust in tackling the deep-rooted problems which led to the service being judged inadequate in 2011, 2013 and 2015, Ofsted has said.
After a faltering start, senior leaders from the council and the trust now work closely together to deliver improved services for children. They have a clear and realistic understanding of the quality of frontline practice, including the areas for further development.
An increasingly strong culture of challenge, support and learning is helping to improve practice, the inspection of children’s services found.
“Senior leaders in the trust have acted to strengthen management oversight and accountability over the last six to nine months. This is delivering improved results, with most managers now ensuring better oversight of children’s plans,” said the report.
Barnet care leavers’ service steadily improving
The London Borough of Barnet has continued to focus steadily on developing and delivering improvements to the ‘onwards and upwards’service for care leavers since the previous inspection, Ofsted has found.
Senior leaders and managers have worked effectively with relevant partner agencies, at both a strategic and operational level, to progress and sustain change across all areas of practice, found the sixth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in July 2017.
“Positive changes to the ‘onwards and upwards’office base have been developed with feedback and participation from young people. The centre is welcoming, and appropriately child-centred,enabling young people to ‘drop in’on a regular basis, either informally or to attend planned events and activities.Specialist services, including mental health counselling, education, training and employment advice, offer effective and timely support to care leavers,including some young peoplewho have been previously hard to engage,” said the report, which focused on Barnet’s care leavers’service.
Stockport further strengthens child protection services
Stockport has further strengthened services for children who need help and protection, Ofsted has found.
Stockport children’s services were last inspected by Ofsted in July 2017 and all areas were judged to be good,with adoption judged to be outstanding. Since then, improvements have been made including more robust arrangements in the multi-agency support and safeguarding hub, the focused visit to Stockport children’s services found.
“Expert advice on early help services ensures that children and families who need support,but do not require an urgent response, are considered promptly and linked to appropriate support without delay. The ‘team around the child’and ‘team around the school’approach is embedded across Stockport,” said the report.
Waltham Forest significantly improves
Services for children in Waltham Forest are good and have significantly improved since the last inspection in 2015, according to Ofsted.
Leaders have made strong progress to establish a resilient, sustainable and child-focused service, which is underpinned by strong, effective political and corporate support, the inspection of children’s services at Waltham Forest found.
“Leaders know their services and areas for development and use this knowledge to improve the quality of practice and outcomes,” said the report which rated the local authority’s overall effectiveness as ‘good’.
Ofsted notes impressive progress at Staffordshire
Leaders and managers at Staffordshire children’s services have made impressive progress since a focused visit in 2018 which highlighted a deterioration in the quality of some services, an Ofsted inspection has shown.
The local authority took concerted action to improve services and ensure that vulnerable children are considered as a corporate priority. The budget for children’s services is now protected, and additional funding to restructure and increase the number of social workers has been provided.
“Leaders and managers’prompt and effective action has resulted in reduced caseloads for social workers. Social workers have more time to consider and complete work which leads to improved outcomes for many children. Most children and families in Staffordshire receive a good service and benefit from good-quality social work practice. Skilled practitioners work with children and families to reduce risks, meet needs and achieve positive change,” said the report.
Staff morale improves at Croydon as it continues to improve
Services for children in Croydon continue to improve, Ofsted has said.
Inspectors visited the authority for the fifth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in September 2017 and found staff morale is improving, with increasing confidence in the improvement journey under the new leadership.
“A permanent executive director and a permanent director of early help and children’s social care have recently taken up posts in Croydon. They have quickly and accurately evaluated the current quality of practice, and they have identified appropriate priorities for improvement, although it is too soon to gauge the impact,” said the report.
“Although very recent, there are signs of an acceleration of pace, with a concerted focus on key priorities,” it added.
Children are at risk of significant harm in Stoke-on-Trent
Children are not being protected by Stoke on Trent’s children’s services, Ofsted has said rating the local authority’s children’s services as inadequate.
Children experience serious and widespread delays in having their needs met across children’s services, the inspection found. Leaders have not sufficiently understood the extent and impact of the failures and have been ineffective in prioritising, challenging and making improvements.
“As a result of poor leadership, management oversight and an absence of clearly evaluated performance information, services for children have seriously declined since the last full Ofsted inspection in 2015,and the majority of recommendations made at that inspection and a focused visit in 2018 have not been actioned,” said the report.
The last full inspection was in August 2015 when all of the judgements were requires improvements to be good, with adoption judged to be good. Since then, there has been a serious decline in all of the services.
Social work practice is inconsistent in Coventry
Ofsted has warned that the quality of social work practice remains inconsistent at Coventry children’s services.
While there is a concerted focus on achieving permanence for children in care in Coventry, too many children do not have an updated assessment to inform their care plan, and the Public Law Outline (PLO) is not used effectively at the pre-proceedings stage to assess and support children who may be at risk of harm.
“Delays in achieving permanence exist for some children on a placement order, and some permanence options, such as special guardianship, are not promoted enough.
Children’s files do not always show how permanence decisions are made. The local authority does not have a system to track and prioritise matching for children placed in long-term fostering arrangements,” said the report.
Ofsted praises improved stability in workforce at Darlington
A stable and motivated workforce has been established at Darlington borough council, according to Ofsted.
A focused visit of the local authority’s children’s service found that since the last Ofsted inspection in March 2018 – when children’s services were judged to be ‘requires improvement to be good’ – a stable and committed senior leadership team combined with strong political support has been successful in establishing and maintaining a stable and motivated workforce.
“Leaders have a realistic understanding of the strengths and areas for improvement and this is reflected in their action plan. They recognise that there is more to do to ensure that the help and support provided to all children in need of help and protection result in sustained improvements in their lives,” said the report.
New bespoke model of social work at South Tyneside
A bespoke model of social work practice to better support children in need of help and protection has been introduced at South Tyneside, Ofsted has said.
At the last Ofsted inspection of children’s services in November 2017, the local authority was judged to be good overall. The continual improvement of performance and quality assurance systems means that senior managers and leaders know their service well, and this enables them to target resources appropriately.
“Learning from the previous inspection is enhancing social work practice. For example, there are improvements in relation to the response to children missing from home and care, which was previously an area of weakness. Improved management oversight and a strengthened focus on the voice of children is leading to more responsive interventions and planning,” said the report.
Ofsted notes deterioration at Newham and issues inadequate rating
There has been a significant deterioration in children’s services at the London Borough of Newham since the last Ofsted inspection in 2014, the inspectorate has warned.
Inadequate progress has been made in response to the areas of improvement identified in the previous inspection and in the focused visit of 2018. Significant practice deficits remain in key areas, and leaders are failing in their duties to children in care and care leavers. Leaders have not created an environment for social work to flourish, and there has been a distinct lack of ambition for children.
“Children in need of help and protection in Newham receive services which range in quality from requires improvement to be good to poor. Early help and family support services are not fully developed to be effective, particularly for older children and adolescents,” said the report. “Most children in care and care leavers are not supported well enough. Services for care leavers have deteriorated and the needs of too many young people are not met, or even known, because there is a lack of contact from the care leavers service.”