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Tower Hamlets goes from inadequate to good in two years

Tower Hamlets children's services has turned itself around from inadequate in 2017 to good in the latest inspection of the children's services.

Ofsted said Tower Hamlets has "substantially improved" children's services with leaders and managers having had a relentless focus to improve practice to deliver good experiences and progress for children and their families.

"Effective and well-coordinated universal and early help provision means that children and families receive good help when they need it. Children in need, including those in need of protection, benefit from good assessments that inform plans to reduce risk and improve children’s circumstances," said the report.

In terms of the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, inspectors noted:

- Children and their families benefit from an extensive range of increasingly well-coordinated multi-agency early help support.

- Several schools directly employ social workers, who provide advice and guidance to pastoral and other staff and undertake direct work with children and their families.

- Referrals into the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) are appropriate and reflect partners’ good understanding of thresholds.

- Most assessments are comprehensive and analytical. They demonstrate effective and thoughtful engagement with families and a good understanding of children’s needs.

- Most child protection and child in need plans are realistic and identify clear desired outcomes so parents and children understand and address concerns.

- The impact of the strategic neglect work has led to better recognition and understanding of the impact of accumulative neglect.

- Management oversight is clearly evidenced on children’s files; it is regular and covers key decision points appropriately in children’s lives.

- Disabled children’s assessments and plans are of a good standard.

- Highly vulnerable children at risk of exploitation, including those missing from home, school or care, receive effective, bespoke services, delivered sensitively by skilled and committed staff.

- Arrangements for the completion of return home interviews (RHIs) have been streamlined and are effective.

However, a new system to ensure consistent and rigorous response to allegations against professionals is not yet fully established and does not effectively track and monitor the progress of casework. The action plan to progress this work lacks clear priorities to highlight proactive engagement with agencies in raising awareness of their responsibilities to report and act on concerns, for example with the diverse range of local community and faith groups.

With regards to the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, Ofsted said:

- Children come into care appropriately when risks increase for them and they are no longer able to safely live at home.

- Workers in the ‘edge of care’ team build close and trusting relationships with children, and effective support enables many to remain safely living at home or with other family members.

- Family finding for children who cannot live safely with birth parents is timely through the legal gateway process. All permanence options, including special guardianship orders and adoption, are now considered simultaneously.

- Children’s views are clear in assessments, which are regularly updated. Care plans are child-centred, and most are comprehensive and analytical, and include contingency plans.

- The work of the independent reviewing officers (IROs) has improved significantly.

- The quality and stability of placements for children in care is good.

- The adoption service has made considerable improvements since the previous inspection, including doubling the numbers of approved adopters and adoption orders from the previous 12 months.

- For children leaving care, the ‘through-care’ service provides strong supportive relationships between most staff and young people, including proactive work with young people in custody.

- Pathway plans are reviewed regularly, and most are comprehensive and reflect young people’s needs, wishes and feelings well.

However, for children returning home from care, the quality of practice is not consistent. Some children benefit from thorough planning and collaborative multi-agency work. For other children whose plan is to return home, plans are not supported by an up-to-date assessment. Some children experience delay in the revocation of care orders, despite them asking for this to happen. The local authority knows it needs to improve integrated work between teams so that children are more effectively supported when they return home.

For the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, inspectors highlighted:

- Senior leaders and elected members have focused relentlessly on improving practice across all services, changing the culture and tackling previous poor performance.

- Work across partner agencies has been led through the local safeguarding children’s board and there is now a culture of collaboration, shared priorities, and investment in joint resources.

- Leaders, managers and staff have high ambitions for children in care and strive to meet these.

- The local authority has transformed its performance management framework from unreliable and non-compliant to a highly effective and established quality assurance system.

- At all levels of the service, there is effective management oversight and grip.

- A strong emphasis on developing the social work academy and nurturing newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) encourages more to remain in the local authority.

"Staff morale is high," said the report. "Staff influence developments and are included in decisions, for example the introduction of a restorative model of practice. Staff want to work in Tower Hamlets, and many agency staff are converting to permanent contracts. The local authority has invested in staff to ensure that caseloads are manageable; this enables children to build trusting relationships with social workers and creates the right environment for good practice."

Ofsted recommends that Tower Hamlets improves the quality of plans for children in need across the family support and protection teams in order to ensure that they are consistently good or better, the response and oversight of work in relation to allegations made against professionals and the quality and coordination of plans to support children returning home from care to remain with their families.

London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Inspection of children’s social care services

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