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Strengthened focus on permanence planning at Cheshire East

Senior leaders at Cheshire East Council have ensured that children increasingly benefit from a strengthened focus on permanence planning at both strategic and operational levels, Ofsted has said.

Cheshire East local authority children’s services were last inspected by Ofsted in July 2015, when the local authority was judged as requiring improvement to be good, with the adoption service judged to be good.

"The improvements to permanence planning for children have been supported by an effective Department for Education-funded ‘Partners in Practice’ collaboration. This demonstrates the senior leaders’understanding of the issues in practice and their commitment to prioritising permanence for the children in their care," said the report following a focused inspection which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for permanency planning and achieving permanence.

Social workers and managers are appropriately reducing the numbers of children on care orders placed at home with parents. Their success in achieving this is, in part, helped by the courts’ increasing confidence in social workers’ practice and assessment with children and their families, and in effective working practices between partner agencies.

The report highlighted:

- Social workers know the children in care very well and ensure that they meet with the children regularly.

- Purposeful and creative direct work is being undertaken to ensure that the child’s experiences, views and feelings are well understood.

- Children benefit from timely plans for permanence.

- Delay is being effectively minimised for children, both before and during proceedings, through the use of strong tracking arrangements.

- Social workers are identifying, at an earlier stage than at the time of the last inspection, extended family members who could provide care to children.

- Strong and improving relationships between Cafcass and the courts mean that care proceedings are usually completed within 27 weeks.

- Improvements to permanency planning for children are effectively quality assured through the local authority’s case audit activity.

However, inspectors said while well-detailed and analysed case summaries enable workers to rapidly gain an understanding of prevailing and past concerns, the recording of informal and formal supervision does not provide a good record of the rationale for decision-making.

Children are not always helped to feel part of the care-planning process as care plans are often too long and contain placement plans and updated assessments.

The return home interview process is inconsistent, which means that there are missed opportunities to capture children’s reasons for going missing, and findings cannot inform strategic or operational planning. Ofsted recommends Cheshire East focuses on return home interviews for children who go missing, and ensures the dissemination of learning from these to inform care and placement plans.

The authority should update assessments and plans that respond to changes in children’s circumstances and ensure that care plans are fully accessible to children and parents.

There should also be clear and consistent recording of supervision and management oversight on children’s case records.

Focused visit Cheshire East

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