A whole-system partnership approach in the London Borough of Bexley children's services has helped the authority achieve an 'outstanding' judgement from Ofsted.
Leaders and senior managers provide inspirational leadership that is both ambitious and highly effective in improving outcomes for children.
"Children who need help and protection receive an outstanding service, with highly effective help and support provided from day one of an assessment," said the report. "Creative direct work and consistently good and high-quality assessments are undertaken by a skilled, stable and well-supported workforce."
Ofsted outlined that services for children and families in Bexley have improved significantly since the previous inspection in 2014.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers was rated as good while the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families and the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection were both rated outstanding contributing to the overall judgement of outstanding.
Bexley’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Cllr Philip Read said; “We have been on a continuous journey of improvement and Ofsted have recognised the progress we’ve made. Over the last four years we have put in place a number of innovations including developing our own Social Work Academy that not only encourages the best Newly Qualified Social Workers to come to Bexley, but makes them want to stay with us. At the same time, we have succeeded in attracting an increasingly capable and professional permanent workforce of experienced staff and reduced to a slender minimum what was an unhealthy reliance on expensive agency staff."
- In terms of the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, Ofsted highlighted:
- Key decisions for children in care are informed by holistic assessments that capture up-to-date events or changing needs.
- Social workers know their children well and see them regularly, often more frequently than their plan requires.
- There is a good and improving education service in place for children in care that focuses on the right priorities and brings about positive outcomes for them.
- Good progress is made by children in many aspects of their lives because of the high-quality care and support provided by their carers and the professional team around them.
- Adoption practice is exceptional.
In terms of the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, the report said:
- Since January 2018, a domestic abuse specialist social worker has been undertaking risk assessments on all cases that are assessed as medium-or standard-risk by the police. This ensures that appropriate support is put in place quickly.
- The daily MASH meeting provides an additional layer of scrutiny regarding decision-making and ensures that all actions are responsive and proportionate to risk.
- The ethos underpinning the well-embedded social work methodology in Bexley is that children should grow up in their own families and other networks when it is safe for them to do so.
- Highly effective help and support are provided from day one of an assessment. Family-based relationship work starts with the whole family network and is supported and underpinned by a clear operating model.
-S47 enquiries are effective and timely in reducing risk to children.
Regarding the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families:
- The local authority and key stakeholders have taken a new approach to partnership working. Innovative approaches to engaging the partnership at both strategic and operational level have created conditions for effective multi-agency collaboration.
- The local authority is a committed corporate parent.
- Management oversight of practice is consistently strong across services and at all levels.
- Courageous conversations are the norm, with great importance placed on learning to collectively manage risk.
Ofsted recommends Bexley improves the system for recording all return home interviews and the effective use of aggregated intelligence. They should also improve the oversight and monitoring systems in place to track the timeliness of work in pre-proceedings and on contingency planning.
The authority should also focus on the numbers of children in long-term foster care who have a comprehensive record of their early childhood experiences and ensure that care leavers’ have access to their health history and to mental health services, and the comprehensiveness and aspiration of pathway plans.
Bexley’s Young Director of Children’s Services, Shannon Lidbury said; “I am a Bexley care leaver myself and every day I see the commitment to all young people. I know they do their 100% best whatever situation families and young people are in to find a better outcome. I love being a Bexley young adult and being the young director because I get a chance to influence now and for the future.”