Ofsted has stated that children’s services at Rochdale require improvement to be good.
In an inspection of the Rochdale children’s services, Ofsted found that while improvements had been made in response to the previous inspection, the quality of practice that children and families experience “remains inconsistent and the overall effectiveness of children’s social care is not yet good”.
“An over-reliance on performance data and some ineffective quality assurance has prevented leaders from having an accurate understanding of the quality of practice for all children,” said the report. “This has resulted in some weaknesses not being fully identified and addressed.”
Children who are in care, or who are care leavers, get a good service and the quality of practice has improved since the last inspection. Children in need of immediate protection receive a prompt response that helps to keep them safe. Other children receive help, but many are stepped down to lower levels of support too early, and before sustainable change is made. This leads to some children experiencing neglect or living with domestic abuse for too long.
In respect of child protection, the report highlighted that services required improvement to be good and highlighted:
- While some assessments were of good quality, the majority did not show consideration of the impact of a child’s history.
- The majority of child in need and child protection plans are not well-written.
- Delays in action being taken when child protection plans do not reduce the risk of significant harm have led to an increase in children coming into care in an emergency.
- Management oversight is too focused on compliance.
- While the response to children who go missing is strong, there is inconsistency in the quality and recording of this information within the return home interview forms.
However, Rochdale’s ‘complex safeguarding service’ provides a strong multi-agency response for children and adult survivors of sexual exploitation. In addition, when children are at risk of sexual exploitation, they get a multi-agency response and intervention, including specialist support.
The experiences of children in care and leaving good are, however, good, said Ofsted. When children come into care in a planned way, this is informed by a comprehensive well-written assessment.
Social workers see children regularly and understand their wishes and feelings. Children live in placements that meet their needs and the authority is very committed to placing sibling groups together with very few family groups being separated. Educational attainment is improving for most children in care.
The timeliness and quality of service provided for adopted children have continued to improve. There remains more work to do to ensure that all children looked after achieve permanence and do not experience drift and delay in their placements being confirmed as their permanent placement.
Child permanence reports are well-written and child centred and life story work takes place.
The report notes that the service for care leavers has improved significantly since the last inspection. Children leaving care benefit from proactive work by personal advisers, who work hard to maintain relationships with them. All care leavers have an up-to-date pathway plan that is written in language that young people can understand.
The majority of care leavers live in good quality accommodation and more than double the number of young people aged between 19 and 21 attend higher education in Rochdale compared to care leavers nationally.
Inspectors concluded that the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families requires improvement to be good.
When a weakness or an area of development is identified by external sources, for example previous inspections, leaders in Rochdale are able to respond and take appropriate action to improve it. The experience of care leavers, identified as the weakest area of service at the last inspection, has improved significantly.
Areas of poor practice identified during this inspection resulted in an immediate response from leaders.
Leaders are over-reliant on performance data to evaluate services, the majority of quality assurance activity in the local authority is poor and the quality of management oversight across the service is inconsistent.
The local authority has worked hard to stabilise and maintain the workforce. There continues to be some challenges in some teams, which have resulted in some children in need of help and protection experiencing changes in worker and managers. The rate of staff turnover and the use of agency staff have reduced and caseloads are now manageable, and staff report feeling supported in their work. Greater stability has been achieved in those teams working with children in care.
Ofsted concluded that Rochdale needs to improve the following areas:
- The quality of practice and management oversight.
- The understanding and evaluation of what life is like for children and an accurate evaluation of the impact that practice has on improving their experience.
- The application of thresholds of need, and decision-making to step down or end care planning, particularly for those children at risk of neglect or domestic abuse.
- Practice to enable all children looked after to understand and to have information about their own histories and certainty about their plan for permanence.
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