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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."

The quality of assessments of children’s needs has improved substantially and the quality assurance of practice by independent reviewing officers (IROs) and child protection conference chairs is well established and effective. Strategy discussions to consider whether children are suffering or at risk of significant harm are routinely attended by agency partners.

The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement to be good. The report highlighted:

- Since the last inspection in 2014, Plymouth council has developed a wide range of early help and targeted services to strengthen parenting capacity and build resilience in families.

- Where risks are clearly evidenced at the point of contact, the Gateway service and MASH take appropriate and timely action.

- Child protection enquiries undertaken in the Plymouth referral and assessment service (PRAS) are concluded in a timely manner.

- Child in need and child protection plans are developed in a timely manner in response to needs identified.

- Records of return home interviews for children who have gone missing from home or from care have improved significantly since the last inspection.

Social workers spoken to by inspectors report being well supported in their teams and by managers, and that they have good access to advice and supervision. However, supervision does not always take place regularly, records are not of consistently good quality and management oversight is not well captured in children’s records. This makes it difficult to track decision-making, measure progress for children, and, where there is delay, to identify and address this.

Services to identify children who are privately fostered are also under-developed.

The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement to be good. Inspectors noted:

- The vast majority of children in care receive a good service.

- Thresholds for care proceedings are well understood and appropriately applied.

- For other children in care, assessments are routinely updated, thorough and of a good standard.

- Social workers have developed positive relationships with children in care and know them well.

- When adoption is the plan for children, they receive an effective and timely service and the individual needs of brothers and sisters are carefully considered.

Assessments of prospective foster carers are comprehensive. However, reports on prospective adopters, while comprehensive, are not consistently analytical or evaluative. Furthermore, currently, there are not enough adopters or foster to adopt placements.

Senior leaders recognise that, currently, caseloads of personal advisers are too high to consistently provide the best service to all care leavers.

The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families requires improvement to be good. The report stated that:

- Since the last inspection and focused visit, senior leaders have undertaken an end-to-end review, redesign and restructuring of services in order to create sustainable, effective and improved services for children and their families.

-There are strong strategic partnerships and integrated commissioning arrangements, leading to a well-coordinated wide range of services to meet the needs of children and families.

- Senior leaders are outward looking and have been successful in attracting innovative projects to continue to develop and improve services for children, such as a project to improve outcomes for care leavers.

- The local authority’s self-assessment is accurate and clearly sets out progress and improvements in service provision and developments, as well as key priority areas for improvement.

- When children are considered to be at risk of sexual exploitation, there is timely and effective response.

"Senior leaders have taken effective action to reduce caseloads and establish a permanent, suitably qualified and supported workforce. For the vast majority of social workers, caseloads are manageable, and morale is good," said the report.

"The local authority has invested in a professional development team which is supported by a comprehensive professional development programme and the establishment of the social work academy provides clear learning and career pathways. This has been successful in both attracting and retaining staff. As a result, social workers are developing meaningful relationships with children, and have the time and capacity to deliver purposeful and well-targeted interventions," the report concluded.

Ofsted recommends that Plymouth focuses on the quality of strategy discussions, including records of decision-making and action plans as well as the quality of written plans. The quality of recording of supervision and management oversight also needs work.

Plymouth should ensure the sufficiency of local placements to meet the needs of older children. The quality of services to care leavers needs work, including education, employment and training opportunities.

Finally Plymouth should look at the quality of and learning from auditing of casework.

Inspection of children’s social care services Plymouth City Council

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