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Reduced caseloads at Bedford improves outcomes

Leaders at Bedford children's services have improved the stability of the social care workforce and reduced social work caseloads, Ofsted has said.

In a focused visit to Bedford Borough Council children’s services, inspectors said that actions taken since the last inspection of children’s services in February 2017 have resulted in improved outcomes for children in need and children in need of protection.

"By investing in key areas, such as the Social Work Academy and new programmes with parents who perpetrate domestic abuse, leaders have been able to develop and retain skilled social workers and strengthen support for vulnerable children," said the report.

A new model of practice, based on systemic principles and building relationships with families, is in the early stages of being implemented across the service, although it is too soon to evaluate the impact for children of some of the more recent initiatives.

Leaders know the service well and have a realistic view of the quality of social work practice.

The report highlighted:

- The quality of services for children in need and children in need of protection is improving.

- Child in need planning is increasingly effective and actions in children’s plans are better focused.

- Social workers use creative methods to help children understand concerns for them and why certain decisions have been made.

- Practice in pre-proceedings work, under the Public Law Outline, is effective, resulting in timely action to protect children from further harm.

- When children are no longer able to remain safely within their own families, the decision-making for children to come in to care is proportionate and timely.

- Disabled children receive a high-quality social work service and safeguarding concerns are responded to quickly.

- Staff identify children who are at risk from gang affiliation and exploitation and offer tailored support.

However, inspectors noted that a minority of child protection plans are too adult-orientated, with insufficient focus on the specific outcomes needed to ensure children’s safety.

Further, while staff routinely seek parental feedback in audits and following child protection conferences, opportunities for children to influence decisions about the help they receive are too limited.

Quality assurance approaches do not sufficiently consider the quality of child protection planning, or the quality of decision-making and supervision, Ofsted added.

"Social workers receive regular supervision, and senior managers are readily available for case consultations," said the report. "Staff morale in Bedford is high, and many social workers spoke of how they feel valued by senior managers and leaders. Staff development is prioritised, and social workers’ manageable caseloads mean that they have capacity to attend a range of training."

In order to improve social work practice in this area, Bedford should focus on the quality of children’s plans, including planning specific outcomes for children and capturing children’s views in their assessments and reviews of their plans.

Furthermore, the quality of case supervision for staff needs work and Bedford should ensure learning from case audits and other quality assurance activity in order to improve practice.

Bedford focused visit

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