Since the last inspection of Thurrock in 2016, when children’s services were judged to require improvement, an experienced senior leadership team has driven a sustained pace of improvement in most areas, said Ofsted.
Services for vulnerable children and their families in Thurrock are now good. Although some developments are recent, strong child-centred practice is evident across all teams and services, the inspection of children's services found.
"Skilled and committed social workers and other frontline practitioners listen to children and their parents. They take time to understand children’s experiences. Staff act swiftly to prevent harm and provide support early. Current senior leaders have worked diligently to develop and support a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Stability of leadership and strong aspirations to ‘get it right’ for vulnerable children are key factors in their success," said the report.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection are good. Inspectors highlighted:
- Judicious, targeted investment in the newly reconfigured locality-based preventative and support service (PASS) as part of Thurrock’s Brighter Futures strategy means that early help is carefully prioritised for the most vulnerable families.
- Strong partnerships in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) serve to protect children from harm. Thresholds between early help and social care services are well understood.
- Assessments using the local authority’s revised model of practice are comprehensive and analytical, and are a vast improvement on those seen during the 2016 single inspection.
- Appropriate action is taken to safeguard and protect children who are at immediate risk of significant harm.
- Child protection conferences are timely. Multi-agency core groups are held regularly; most are used effectively to review and update child protection plans.
- Senior leaders have recognised the need to strengthen the operational coordination of information and alignment of systems to monitor and assess the impact of work with vulnerable adolescents and children at risk of exploitation.
- Effective strategic relationships with multi-agency partners have resulted in the successful disruption of known perpetrators who criminally exploit or traffic children and vulnerable adults.
- Until recently, disabled children and their families did not consistently get the right level of help and support from children’s social care. Action by senior leaders has strengthened management oversight for these children. Risks and safeguarding concerns are recognised, and children’s cases are stepped up appropriately when needs change and a more intensive social work response is required. Assessments are updated routinely.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers are good. The report said:
- Most children come into care either on a planned or voluntary basis or through the application of a court order when efforts to protect them at home have been unsuccessful.
- Social workers know children well. While some children have experienced too many changes in staff, most children are able to build trusting relationships with new workers and their foster carers.
- Independent reviewing officers (IROs) work diligently with social workers and carers to support children to express their views.
- Children are settled in their placements, including those who are living outside the local authority area.
- Social workers regularly update their assessments for children in care, ensuring that they are child-centred, comprehensive and analytical.
- Routine, sensitive planning for children to enable them to live with family members is a real strength in Thurrock.
- Children and carers benefit hugely from highly experienced and dynamic social workers and senior managers in Thurrock’s fostering and adoption services.
- The proportion of care leavers in education, employment or training over the age of 19 is high.
- Care leavers spoke positively and with genuine warmth about PAs who help them realise their ambitions. They have access to employment, training and apprenticeships delivered by enthusiastic staff via the inspire hub. At the time of inspection, 26 young people were attending university.
However, the report states that a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children entering care and a relatively high percentage of older children in care present specific challenges. Many of these young people have suffered neglect and trauma, some are estranged from their families and others have been known to agencies for many years. Frontline staff skillfully build relationships with these children. They work in collaboration with partner agencies to ensure that they can access personalised help and support. However, delays in completing initial health assessments are a critical issue for this group. Although leaders are working with health colleagues to resolve the delay, the pace of change is too slow.
The court team is emerging from a very difficult period, during which high levels of staff turnover have had a negative impact on the quality and timeliness of applications in the family courts. Currently, good-quality parenting and connected carers assessments contribute to effective and timely permanence plans for children who are unable to live with their parents.
The transition from child in care to care leaver is not as seamless as it needs to be. The quality and effectiveness of early pathway planning is variable. Some young people don’t have an up-to-date pathway plan. Others, who are clearly vulnerable, do not have a current risk assessment.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is good. The report stated:
- Effective and stable senior leadership has led to considerable improvement in the quality and impact of social work practice for children in need of help and protection, those in care and care leavers since the Ofsted 2016 single inspection.
- The assistant director and the recently retired director of children’s services (DCS) in children’s social care have shown remarkably strong leadership, addressing considerable deficits in practice reported at the last inspection.
- Leaders know their communities well. They have focused on co-designing services based on what local people need. Senior leaders promote a strong ethos of participation and advocacy.
- Successful workforce planning and staff development in Thurrock have increased the number of frontline practitioners supporting children. This has increased capacity to sustain a good-quality service and is a substantial improvement since the last inspection.
- The local authority takes its responsibility as a corporate parent for children in care very seriously.
- Performance management is well established and is a priority.
"Staff consistently feel well supported in their work and their professional development by highly visible, approachable and involved managers at every level. Senior leaders take the time and trouble to nurture talent. There is a tangible culture of professional accountability and respectful challenge devoid of blame across teams. Morale is good. Supervision is frequent and mostly effective," said the report.
"Social workers and managers are fittingly proud of the work they are doing in Thurrock. They know their children and families very well and speak with passion and enthusiasm about the often exemplary work they undertake with them. They work in an environment where caseloads are manageable and where leaders support them to do their jobs effectively," the report concluded.
In order to improve practice, Thurrock should ensure that planned transitions and closer collaboration with adult services needs to happen earlier for disabled young people and care leavers.
The timeliness of initial health assessments when all children come into care needs addressing.
Finally there should be alignment and effectiveness of systems that support children at risk of criminal and sexual exploitation and children missing from home and care, to ensure that children can tell their stories.
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