Workforce strategy contributes to improvements at Knowsley children’s services finds Ofsted

A local authority has shed its ‘inadequate’ rating following an investment in social work services, it has emerged.

Ofsted noted that services and outcomes for all children have significantly improved since the last inspection of Knowsley Council in 2014 when the council’s social care department was rated inadequate overall.

In a recent inspection carried out in March, the inspectorate raised Knowsley’s rating to ‘requiring improvement’ and said the local authority had achieved improvements and shed the ‘inadequate’ label through “a wholesale and effective cultural and structural transformation”.

“The local authority has achieved significant improvement in social work practice at every stage in the child’s journey through effective leadership and creating the right environment for good social work to flourish,” said Ofsted.

The council has implemented a highly successful workforce recruitment and retention strategy which has resulted in a stable workforce. At the time of the inspection, 76% of the workforce had been with the local authority for longer than 12 months and only four social workers were agency workers. All of them had been with the authority for longer than two years which, the watchdog said, “represents a significant reduction in the high staff turnover and high percentage of agency staff seen at the last inspection”.

The local authority has achieved this stability through a whole-systems approach that includes access to good-quality training and opportunities for high-performing staff to progress. As a result, staff morale is high and turnover of staff is low.

“These improvements, combined with reducing caseloads, mean that children have opportunities to form stable relationships with staff who know them well,” said the inspection report.

The local authority has invested in providing workers with high-quality tools to enable them tp do their job well including an improved physical environment and technology to support mobile working, as well as tools to support effective practice with children and families, for example direct-work tools that enhance social work analysis and elicit the wishes and feelings of children.

The director of children’s services and his senior leadership team have been strongly supported by a council-wide strategy that makes improving outcomes for vulnerable children in Knowsley everybody’s business’.

The local authority’s collaboration with key partner agencies is well informed by a detailed understanding of the needs of children in Knowsley. A shared strategic determination across agencies to promote children’s welfare means that children are increasingly receiving effective preventative services at a time that is right for them. When children need additional help, they are promptly identified through the multi-agency safeguarding hub.

Preventative services for children on the edge of care are a strength, and decisions for children to become looked after are proportionate. Most children looked after live in stable placements that meet their needs. However, the quality of assessments and care planning remains variable.

Children’s health needs are met well, and includes good-quality therapeutic support for their emotional health. However, the local authority recognises that, despite significant improvement, the quality of personal education plans for children looked after is not yet good enough, and not enough children are achieving their full educational potential.

Ofsted highlights that the local authority has made excellent progress in promoting permanence for children through adoption, and the service, which was inadequate at the last inspection, is now good. Care leavers are well supported to make a successful transition to adulthood. They develop trusting relationships with staff who are tenacious in helping them to make the right choices and develop the right skills.

Ofsted recommends that Knowsley should:

  • Ensure that all plans and reviews of plans are focused on improving outcomes for children and young people and are informed by an up-to-date, holistic assessment of need. This includes child in need plans, child protection plans, care plans, pathway plans and personal education plans.
  • Improve the standard of social work to families under the pre-proceedings phase of the Public Law Outline and ensure that the rationale for their entering or leaving pre-proceedings is clearly recorded.
  • Ensure that child permanence reports are child centred and comprehensive, with sufficient detail to give a good understanding of birth parents’ histories.
  • Ensure that all care leavers have access to and understand their health histories.

Bec Burrows, a social worker in Children’s Social Care at Knowsley, said: “I started to work at the Council shortly after the Ofsted inspection in 2014.  Children’s social care in Knowsley has completely transformed and the place is unrecognisable compared to three years ago.  Just a few examples of how things have changed includes better communications at a team and corporate level, a better working environment, the co-location of teams has improved cross-team working, investment in technology and tools has helped us to do our jobs and engage with our children’s and families in different ways.  It really is a great place to work and I’m pleased that Ofsted has formally recognised the great service we deliver.”

Cllr Joan Lilly, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, added: “I’m delighted with this judgement, which reflects the hard work and commitment of our staff and partners in delivering services to our children, young people and families.  For Ofsted to identify so many areas of improvement, referring to our cultural and structural transformation in children’s social care is a great achievement in such as short space of time.  This really has been a whole Council approach, supported by our partners, with all services playing their part.  I look forward to building on this success as we continue to further develop our services and ensure our children and families get the best from us in order for them to develop their own potential and prosper.”

Ofsted inspection of Knowsley children’s social care