A culture of openness and willingness to learn at Somerset children’s services has resulted in the authority moving from inadequate to ‘requires improvement to be good’.
Somerset children’s services has made “steady improvement” since the last inspection in 2015 when the authority was rated inadequate, Ofsted said.
“Services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers, while requiring further improvement to be good, have improved from a very low starting point. Children who require adoption receive a good service,” said the report.
An experienced director of children’s services has engaged partner agencies to the improvement agenda. Too often, however, children’s circumstances have to be escalated to a senior level before effective action is taken.
While no children were found to be at immediate risk of harm during this inspection, the quality of practice remains variable and managers do not always challenge poor practice.
- Children’s assessments and plans remain inconsistent.
- Social workers do not update assessments regularly enough.
- Child protection enquiries are not always appropriately child focused.
- Multi-agency meetings to protect children are not sufficiently focused on risk reduction.
However, the turnover of staff and managers has been reduced and there has been significant investment in creating an environment that enables good practice to flourish. This includes smaller caseloads for social workers and increased frontline manager capacity.
Leaders have improved early help services and when children first need a social work service, the thresholds are clear and consistent, and children receive a timely and proportionate response. Decisions for children coming into care are appropriate and mostly timely.
There is good ‘edge of care’ work to prevent children from becoming looked-after and the authority is expanding this to support children returning home from care.
The quality of court work is good, although pre-proceedings work is less effective in supporting parents to understand concerns and what needs to change. Assessments are not always appropriately used to inform decisions about children who return home from care and, as a result, plans for a few children are not sufficiently clear about the support needed to sustain their return home.
Children looked after do not always achieve their full potential, and the quality of personal education plans is not consistently good enough. Health assessments for children take too long.
Inspectors highlighted that responses to children experiencing sexual exploitation are effective in reducing risk for individual children, but the quality of return home interviews for children who go missing from home or care does not contribute to good risk analysis.
Adoption services are good and timely, and include effective use of fostering for adoption for a wide range of children.
“While the local authority has been successful in ensuring that basic practice standards are met, and that children are safe, it recognises that it must increase capacity in the senior leadership team so that the current pace of change is maintained and accelerated further. This reflects the scale of improvement required since the last inspection,” the report concluded.
The report makes 13 recommendations including:
- Ensure that capacity in the senior management team is sufficient to address the operational issues that have resulted in inconsistencies in social work practice.
- Improve the quality and effectiveness of strategy discussions.
- Ensure that the scrutiny and oversight of practice provided by managers, child protection chairs and independent reviewing officers are effective in achieving positive change for children.
- Improve the timeliness and standards of social work practice relating to families in pre-proceedings work.
Leader of the Council, Councillor David Fothergill said: “We have the ambition for Somerset to be rated by Ofsted as not just ‘Good’ but ultimately to be rated as ‘Outstanding’.”
“We have put a lot of resource and effort into this and these improvements are a tribute to our fantastic staff. Of course, safeguarding children isn’t just the Council’s responsibility and we will be looking to continuing to improve the way that all the organisations in Somerset work together to achieve this.”