Senior leaders at South Gloucestershire have made some gains in improving the majority of services for children and young people, following a slow start, Ofsted has said.
The local authority was judged to be inadequate when it was inspected in 2016 but recently accelerated progress against the improvement plan has ensured that outcomes for most children are now improving in most areas of the service, although not all recommendations from the inspection in 2016 have been fully addressed.
"Emerging strengths are evident in the quality of direct work with children and a greater focus on achieving early permanence for children. A culture of learning and self-reflection is being embedded. Senior leaders have significantly strengthened quality assurance arrangements. Effective use has been made of improvement partners, and key messages and findings from audit activity and performance information have enabled senior leaders to target areas for development. While performance information is routinely scrutinised by managers at all levels, it does not always result in practice improvements," said the report.
Ofsted rated South Gloucestershire as 'requires improvement to be good' in all areas and for overall effectiveness.
In terms of the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, inspectors said:
- Senior leaders have now introduced a revised framework with clear pathways to early help services, and an updated early help strategy is in the process of being implemented.
- The local authority’s family and young people support teams provide a broad range of help, from parenting advice to one-to-one work with children.
- Children receive a swift response when there are clearly presented safeguarding concerns.
- Child protection enquiries are timely and thorough.
- Children in the 0–25 disability service receive a significantly improved service compared with that seen at the time of the previous inspection in 2016.
- The use of the Public Law Outline (PLO) is improving.
- Children who go missing are routinely offered a return home interview.
- Responses to individual children identified as being at risk of exploitation, including sexual exploitation, are mostly timely and effective.
However, decisions on contacts take too long to be made and in some cases, managers and social workers show insufficient professional curiosity at the referral stage. While improving overall, the quality and timeliness of assessments of children remain inconsistent and the quality of child protection and child in need plans remains weak.
For the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, Ofsted said:
- Decisions for children to come into care are timely and proportionate and are based on appropriate assessments and analysis of need.
- Social workers build meaningful relationships with children.
- There is a clear focus in plans on achieving permanence for children.
- A bespoke personal education plan for all students has been developed and this is a positive development.
However, senior leaders recognise that, despite an increase in foster carers, they do not have sufficient foster carers to meet the diverse needs of children in care.
Further, the quality of the service for care leavers has declined since a monitoring visit to the local authority in October 2018 and for too many, it is poor. The quality and timeliness of pathway plans for care leavers is also too inconsistent, inspectors said.
Management capacity within the team is not sufficient, and while supervision takes place this is not always timely.
In terms of the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, Ofsted said:
- Overall, the pace of progress since the single inspection in 2016, which judged the service as inadequate, has been slow.
- Several recommendations from the previous inspection have not been fully addressed, for example the timeliness of return home interviews and the number of care leavers who are not in education, employment or training.
- The quality of services for care leavers has declined in recent months, and while senior leaders are aware of the decline and that increased management support is required, additional capacity is not yet in place.
However, the report states that, although slow to establish, South Gloucestershire now has a revised framework for the implementation of early help, and the early help strategy is in the process of being implemented.
Senior leaders have ensured that the 0–25 service, supporting children with disabilities, has been strengthened through additional management and social work capacity, and the vast majority of children in the 0–25 service now receive a timely and effective response to their needs.
Senior leaders have introduced a revised and strengthened supervision tool and supervision policy, although this activity has been slow to be implemented.
The local authority has a revised workforce development strategy which sets out recruitment and retention strategies and caseloads have been significantly reduced.
Staff morale is good, and staff value the strengths-based practice model that is now well embedded and has ensured a clearer focus on delivering improved outcomes for children, the report adds.
Ofsted recommends that South Gloucestershire improves the implementation of sustainable improvements across all parts of the service, the timeliness of decision-making at the first point of contact with children’s services and the quality of analysis of assessments of children’s needs.
The timeliness of preventative services provided to children referred to the FYPS, the timeliness of return home interviews when children go missing from home or care and the timeliness and quality of preparation of care leavers for independent living and the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for extended periods of time all need addressing.
South Gloucestershire should also improve the quality of children’s child in need and protection plans so that they include clear measurable actions, with timescales as well as contingency arrangements. The authority needs to ensure the sufficiency of local placements to meet the needs of children with complex needs as well as older children.
South Gloucestershire should also improve the effectiveness of supervision and management oversight in progressing work in a timely way and the quality and range of performance information available to senior leaders to track performance.
The impact and effectiveness of the virtual school, the health information provided to older care leavers and the oversight of permanence arrangements for individual children should also be targeted to improve practice.
Inspection of children’s social care services