Senior leaders and managers at Sheffield have achieved steady progress in improving the vast majority of services since the last inspection in May 2013, Ofsted has said.
Children’s services in Sheffield were rated good whereas in May 2013 they had received a judgement of require improvement to be good.
"This led to a comprehensive improvement plan, overseen by an improvement board, which is supported by significant additional corporate investment. Senior managers have successfully used their self-evaluation, peer review process and feedback from Ofsted’s earlier focused visits to improve services for vulnerable children. This has resulted in most children receiving good services which meet their needs," said the report.
However, there are some discrete areas of the service where practice still requires improvement, such as arrangements when children go missing from home and care, the early identification of children who are at lower risks from exploitation, the management of allegations against professionals and the consistent application of the threshold to step up from early help to children’s social care. Senior managers were aware of these weaknesses prior to the inspection.
The needs of children in care are very well met, and those leaving care receive an impressive service that meets their needs to a high standard.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement to be good. The report stated:
- Children and families in Sheffield benefit from effective and accessible early help.
- In the Sheffield Safeguarding Hub (SSH), responses to contacts and referrals are timely and effective.
- The emergency duty team service is embedded within the SSH to ensure a seamless response to new and existing safeguarding concerns.
- Children identified as being at high risk from exposure to domestic violence are discussed at daily multi-agency domestic abuse meetings with partner agencies. Information-sharing and interim safety plans, pending the outcome of assessments when police have assessed victims as high risk, are helping to better safeguard children where domestic abuse is a feature in their lives.
- When children are identified as potentially needing help and protection, assessments are allocated swiftly, and children are seen quickly by a social worker.
- The vast majority of assessments are timely, thoroughly analysed and well written.
- Most child protection and child in need plans are thorough, effective and are reviewed regularly through multi-agency meetings.
- The pre-proceedings stage of the public law outline is used effectively to help and protect children whose circumstances do not improve when they are subject to child protection plans.
- Where children are identified as being at high risk of exploitation, effective specialist teams provide dedicated support.
- Disabled children in need of help and protection benefit from committed social workers who know them well and ensure that their views and feelings are understood.
- Private fostering arrangements and practice are a strength.
- Culturally sensitive and professionally curious practice is evident.
- When young people aged 16 to 17 years old present as homeless, prompt and thorough assessments take place in respect of their needs, which result in young people either coming into care or being found accommodation and given effective support as children in need.
However, arrangements for children who go missing from home and care are not strong enough. Most children are not contacted or seen soon enough following the missing episode, despite an independent commissioned service having responsibility for this important task. Analysis and actions resulting from contact with the children who go missing are partial and incomplete. Senior managers are aware of this and are taking action to review commissioning arrangements and improve this area of practice.
The report adds that arrangements to manage allegations made against professionals are not always timely or effective, due to a lack of management cover when the designated officer is absent.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers is good. Ofsted highlighted:
- Children are supported effectively to remain with their families, when it is safe for them to do so.
- Children achieve timely permanence through a range of effective and well-planned options, including support to live with family or friends.
- Plans for children to return home from care are regularly considered and supported by good assessments, safety planning and comprehensive support packages.
- Assessments of children’s needs are regularly updated, and children’s views consistently inform their plans.
- Family time for children is carefully and sensitively considered, based on children’s views and robust risk analysis.
- Children’s physical and emotional health needs are well met and children benefit from a strong specialist support network where this is necessary.
- Systems, processes and procedures for recruiting and supporting adopters are effective.
- Care leavers receive an impressive level of support. They benefit from strong relationships with their personal advisers, who go the extra mile for their young people, ensuring they have access to all necessary support and help to maximise their opportunities and experiences.
- Children in care and care leavers are helped to understand their rights and entitlements.
The report outlines that social workers undertake direct work effectively to ensure that even young children understand why decisions have been reached and what plans are for their longer-term care. However, not all children in permanent placements (other than adoption) have life-story books.
Personal Education Plans vary in quality although senior leaders and managers are working to improve this. Senior leaders and managers ensure that pupil premium funding is spent appropriately. However, its impact on progress is not evaluated consistently. Key stage 4 attainment is below national averages, but progress is in line with national averages and improving.
The vast majority of children live in stable local placements which meet their needs. However, when children enter care, there are insufficient placements for a small number of children with the most complex and challenging needs. This means that some children experience delay in being matched to a permanent home, with some experiencing temporary moves which are unsettling. Senior managers have acted successfully to begin to increase the numbers of foster carers being recruited.
Foster carers are well supported and committed to the children in their care. However, gaps in management oversight of training mean that it is not possible to see who has completed the required training within expected timescales. In addition, supervising social workers and foster carers have not yet received training on emerging themes in the sector, for example county lines.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is good. Inspectors stated:
- Senior leaders have made a substantial commitment to ensuring that children receive the right help at the right time.
- Social workers and managers increasingly benefit from environments in which they are enabled to develop and enhance their skills to a high standard.
- The strong commitment and willingness to invest in the workforce are evident and impactful.
- Senior managers have successfully used their self-evaluation, peer review process and feedback from earlier Ofsted focused visits to deliver programmes of change which are improving social work practice and services for vulnerable children.
- Senior leaders are very child-focused and have looked at practice and service successes in other local authority areas. As a result, they have developed creative solutions based on this learning, which children in Sheffield are now benefiting from.
- The local authority’s sense of corporate responsibility for children in care and care leavers is unambiguous and senior leaders provide proactive and committed corporate parenting. The care leaver service has improved significantly.
- Well-embedded processes are in place to understand performance information from operational to strategic levels within the service.
- Senior leaders utilise performance management and monitoring effectively to understand services and drive improvement.
- Effective systems are in place which minimise drift and delay in progressing children’s plans. There is strong senior management oversight of and accountability for higher risk cases through the high-risk matrix and key panels chaired by skilled senior managers.
However, while there has been significant improvement across much of the service, there are still a small number of elements of the service where practice is not yet good. Senior managers were aware of all areas identified prior to the inspection which needed improvement, except for the specific issue with the arrangements to manage allegations against professionals.
Senior managers were aware that the response to children who go missing from home and care needs to be strengthened. They recognise that progress to address underperformance in the commissioned service has been too slow. They also recognise that, while specialist teams for child sexual exploitation and child criminal exploitation are in place and address higher risks effectively, screening where children are at a lower risk of child exploitation is not sufficiently strong. Effective action plans are in place, which are addressing a small number of performance issues in some field work teams and within early help to mitigate against the risks where some social work practice and frontline management are weaker
"The workforce strategy is comprehensive and well thought through. The local authority has worked tenaciously to ensure an increasingly stable, capable and skilled social care workforce. As a result, staff like working for Sheffield City Council. Social workers and other staff working with children benefit from a comprehensive training and development offer, which enables them to develop their practice and skills to a high level," said the report.
"Staff benefit from regular supervision, although the local authority knows that quality of this varies. Clear expectations have been set for maximum workloads. Caseloads are monitored regularly, and most social workers benefit from manageable caseloads. Senior leaders and managers have created an environment in which good social work is nurtured and celebrated. There are several teams where the quality and impact of social work are impressive, although this is not yet consistent across the service," the report concluded.
In order to improve practice further, Ofsted recommends the consistent application of the threshold to step up to children’s social care from early help and the use of screening tools to update and inform plans for children who are at a lower risk of exploitation.
Arrangements for children who go missing from home and care and arrangements to manage allegations against professionals both need improvement.
Finally, placement sufficiency for the most complex and vulnerable children and adolescents needs addressing.
Sheffield City Council
Inspection of children’s social care services