Children looked after by Rotherham Borough Council who need permanence in their lives are receiving a strong service, Ofsted has said.
The inspectorate found evidence of progress since the last inspection in 2017, when services for children looked after were judged to require improvement in Rotherham.
"Effective strategic planning by senior leaders has significantly improved permanence planning for children in care in a coherent and sustainable fashion. Senior leaders have successfully made use of the council’s existing strengths, such as performance reporting, together with increased management oversight of children’s individual circumstances, to achieve sustained improvement," said the report.
In the focused visit, inspectors looked at the local authority’s arrangements for permanence planning, including early permanence for children looked after.
All children in care whose cases were reviewed by inspectors had a plan for permanence firmly in place. This means that there is a real focus on securing their long-term future through both a wide range of different legal orders and finding a variety of places for them to live.
- Unborn or new-born babies are getting an improved service because more assertive action is now taken earlier with mothers who are in a cycle of having their children removed.
- Notwithstanding the lack of enough in-house options, children in care are generally found places to live that match their unique needs. Therapeutic support is readily available for all children in care, and this promotes stability and prevents breakdown.
- Senior leaders are reflective and adaptive, and they run a learning organisation.
- Senior leaders can demonstrate a good understanding of frontline practice.
- The council has secured a permanent workforce of social workers who are well trained and make good use of established social work models when addressing risk and protective factors.
However, social workers report high workloads, and inspection evidence demonstrates that there are several exacerbating factors to this situation. The local authority has had a higher number of children placed in care over the past two years, leading to increased use of placements outside of the borough. This means that social workers must undertake out of authority visits more frequently to build and maintain relationships with children in care. An increased demand in relation to managing children’s contact with their birth families means that social workers currently manage a proportion of this activity, leading to significant travel implications.
An increased complexity of need has been identified as children come into care, and this demands a high degree of social work intervention to ensure that plans are progressed effectively. The combination of these factors means that high workloads can lead to some undesirable delays, such as in the completion of life-story work and later-life letters for children achieving permanence through adoption.
"Given the pressures on their time, it is to social workers’ credit that they make more visits than statutory minimum levels to children on their caseloads and know them so well," said the report.
It added that reviews of children’s plans are well attended and well recorded, but actions identified do not always drive progress in plans for permanence, because they do not address deficits in social workers’ plans by stating clear outcomes and deadlines. Independent Reviewing Officers’ (IROs’) footprints are evident from files looked at, although their impact is not always apparent.
Ofsted recommends that Rotherham improves the quality and consistency of written planning, so that it matches up to social workers’ verbal accounts of their plans.
In a small number of examples, due to a lack of enough in-house options, children were living in unregulated placements and the report recommends that the sufficiency of in-house options is improved, to avoid the use of unregulated placements when finding places for children in care to live.
Rotherham should also improve risk assessments, where risk has potential implications for stability in the lives of children in care.