Cumbria children’s services have been rated as ‘requires improvement to be good’ after receiving three inadequate Ofsted grades in the past three inspections.
Adoption and leadership were rated as ‘good’ while children in need of protection, looked-after children and services for carers were rated as ‘requiring improvement to be good’ in the Ofsted inspection of the authority.
“All local authority services for children have significantly improved and overall effectiveness now requires improvement to be good. This is an achievement, as it follows three inspection ratings of inadequate,” said the report.
“Services for children were inadequate for overall effectiveness in 2012 and 2013 because of weaknesses in safeguarding. In 2015, help and protection services had improved, but services for children looked after had declined and were inadequate. The local authority has now achieved a period of continuous development in all services,” it added.
Children referred for social work support get a timely response.
Strategy meetings lead to effective child protection investigations.
The quality of assessments and care plans is improving.
Significant improvements in use of the public law outline (PLO) and the quality of reports presented to the courts is helping to keep children safe.
Children who go missing, or who are at risk of sexual exploitation, are identified and their level of risk assessed in a timely way.
Good edge of care services support many children to continue to live safely at home.
Decisions for children to become looked after are clear and appropriate.
“For children who need adoption, the service is good. Timeliness and quality of practice have improved and large numbers of children are being adopted, including those with needs that are more complex. Care leavers are receiving a much better service in some areas of their lives,” said the report.
It noted that disabled children receive support from different teams across children’s services, which is not always effective, and the quality of assessment and care planning is weaker than for other groups of children.
Children living in private fostering arrangements do not receive a good service because assessments of private foster carers do not evaluate whether the foster carers can meet the needs of the children. When 16-and 17-year-olds present as homeless, not enough have a social work assessment to inform the level of support they require.
However, inspectors highlighted that ambitious workforce planning, including enhanced packages for staff and a successful social work academy, has resulted in greater stability in the service, and workloads for all staff have reduced.
Ofsted makes 10 recommendations including that Cumbria should:
- Improve consistency in the quality of social work practice for disabled children, including assessments and care plans.
- Improve coordination between children’s and adult services and health partners to make transition arrangements to adult services timely and effective.
- When young people present as homeless, make sure that they have their needs assessed by social workers, and that assessments include full consideration of their history and if they need to become looked after by the local authority.
- Continue to work with the other agencies across the partnership to improve the coordination and service delivery of support to children at risk of sexual exploitation.
John Macilwraith, Corporate Director for Children and Family Services, said: “This is a welcome report that highlights the progress we’ve made. It is difficult to ‘turn around’ a service that has not been performing and this judgement reflects a huge change in our performance and our culture. This is a different service now.
“As inspectors note in their report, we have a clear understanding of the areas that require further development to be good and we are already taking action. I am committed to ensuring all our services are, at least, of a ‘good’ standard for the children of Cumbria, and I know all my colleagues, and our partners, share that commitment. We now have a platform to build on and I am confident that our positive progress will continue.”