There have been significant improvements at Wiltshire since the last inspection in 2015, when all areas of the service required improvement to be good.
Ofsted has now rated the authority's children's services as good, saying the determined and well-focused leadership of the executive director, combined with the corporate
resolution of key elected members, has paid dividends for children in Wiltshire.
"With strong political and corporate support, senior leaders have succeeded in stabilising the workforce and giving social workers the time they need to work purposefully with families and children. The local authority has improved its services for children and offers a consistently good response to families and children in need of help and protection. Senior leaders have built strong partnerships that strengthen the response that families get when they are in crisis," said the report.
For the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, inspectors highlighted:
- Children and young people in Wiltshire benefit from increasingly timely and well targeted early help services.
- The local authority has also taken decisive action to improve the offer to children and families where early help has not supported families quickly enough.
- Children in need of help and protection, including disabled children, receive a swift and effective response to their needs.
- Referrals, including domestic abuse notifications, are well managed, and thresholds for intervention are applied consistently.
- Child protection enquiries are effective and well co-ordinated.
- The quality and timeliness of assessments of children are good.
- Social workers visit their children regularly and often exceed the levels of visiting frequency expected by managers. The quality of direct work with families undertaken by workers is a strength.
- The quality of child protection and child in need plans is good.
- Responses to children who go missing are largely effective, and reporting mechanisms are swift, resulting in well-coordinated plans to locate and safeguard children.
- Arrangements to identify and provide support to young people at risk of sexual exploitation are well coordinated and are delivered effectively by a specialist team.
In terms of the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, the report said:
- Children in care and care leavers receive a good service in Wiltshire.
- When decisions are made for children to come into care, these are appropriate.
- When children return home from care, there is mostly purposeful work to ensure that changes have been made and sustained by parents.
- The majority of children’s assessments completed for looked after children reviews are of a good quality, with children’s wishes and feelings carefully considered.
- Since the last inspection, meeting children’s health needs has improved.
- Social workers and PAs engage in some creative direct work with children.
- The arrangements for finding children adoptive parents are a strength.
- Advocacy is a strong feature for children in Wiltshire.
- For care leavers, there is tenacious work by PAs, and young people value their support.
The report states that care plans for children are of a variable quality but most reflect the individual needs of the child, including contact arrangements, identity and diversity.
Not all children receive timely therapeutic support from child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). However, once children are seen, it makes a positive difference to their lives.
When children in care go missing, the number who are offered return home interviews has improved since the previous inspection, and these are routinely completed by adults that the children know well. However, they are not always timely or recorded in detail.
With regards to the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, Ofsted said:
- Resolute corporate and political support has resulted in more resources being made available to senior leaders who have used these to good effect; services for the most vulnerable children and families are now securely good.
- Since the previous inspection, the executive director for children and education and senior managers have invested time and effort in a performance management system that allows them to identify current trends and areas for improvement.
- Joint working between the local authority and the police is particularly effective and has progressed significantly in terms of community support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC), and a shared vigilance of the threat of county lines and exploitation in the county.
- Relationships with the judiciary and CAFCASS are strong.
- Senior leaders have a good track record of responding to emerging issues.
- The local authority has a good knowledge of its community, including pockets of poverty, vulnerabilities to exploitation and the impact of armed forces resettlement.
- Performance management has improved significantly since the last inspection.
- Social workers have a workload that is manageable, following significant investment to increase the number of practitioners in Wiltshire.
- Social workers in their assessed year are protected and the aspiring manager programme gives extra supervisory capacity to teams, as well as an additional career path option.
However, relationships with health colleagues are less effective, as evidenced by the waiting lists for CAMHS and delays in assessing the health needs of children in care. This has been exacerbated by poor joint scrutiny of commissioned health services.
Due to a lack of placement choice, a small minority of children are poorly matched. These children experience a number of moves or are in placements that are not meeting their needs. Senior leaders have a comprehensive and credible strategy for addressing this challenging issue.
Senior leaders acknowledge that the workforce strategy requires updating to reflect Wiltshire’s ambitions for the future and to develop core skills across existing partnerships. Consultation and analysis of these service priorities is well underway.
"Staff report that they enjoy working for Wiltshire and have a career path that meets their aspirations. Mentoring for staff gives more depth to this approach and is having a positive impact on staff retention. The use of agency workers is greatly reduced, and children are having fewer changes of social worker as a result," the report concluded.
Ofsted recommends that Wiltshire improves raising awareness of private fostering in the local community, the impact of services on children’s health and education when they are in care and the clarity and accuracy of children’s records when they are in care.
Furthermore, the availability of suitable placements when children first come into care and the quality of social work supervision also needs improvement.