A children’s services department has dramatically improved its Ofsted rating after tackling social work staffing problems that had left half of its posts unfilled.
West Berkshire children’s services has jumped from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ just two years after inspectors found “widespread” failures at the department and warned a 50% vacancy rate among children’s social workers was damaging care.
An inspection report published today reveals the social worker vacancy rate had dropped to 10% and staff stability had “improved considerably”. Ofsted said children under the care of West Berkshire were now enjoying “stable, warm and helpful relationships with their social workers and foster carers”.
The services improved their grade against every area tested by Ofsted and inspectors praised the council’s senior leaders for working closely with frontline practitioners to deliver “significant improvements”
“Social workers triage concerns about children effectively, and, in the vast majority of cases, thresholds are applied well. Decisions made by managers are timely, proportionate and well recorded, and show helpful critical reflection and challenge,” the report said.
The council hit the headlines in November 2015 when it unveiled plans to offer child protection social workers £15,000 if they stayed in children’s services for three years. The authority also offered sabbaticals to frontline social workers who felt they needed a short break from practice.
Ofsted found staff stability had “improved considerably” since its last inspection. Children’s services staff were loyal to West Berkshire and benefited from the “significant investment in training”.
“Social workers understand the importance of relationships and direct work with children and the need for up-to-date good-quality assessments, plans, reviews and chronologies,” the report said.
Inspectors also praised a child protection surgery, set up after the previous inspection, which it said led to “more assertive action when plans do not lead to sufficient change in children’s lives”.
“The surgery reviews all children who have been subject to a child protection plan for nine months. It considers whether a ‘pre-proceedings’ phase should commence, during which parents are advised that their children’s welfare and future care may need to be considered by a court.
“The surgery promotes a sharper focus on children’s welfare, outcomes and permanence.”
However, Ofsted said the council still needed to improve its response to children and young people who go missing from care, and simplify the language in children’s plans so they are easier for families to understand.
Rachael Wardell, director of children’s services in West Berkshire, said the council sped up changes since the 2015 inspection and welcomed Ofsted’s return.
“We’ve worked hard to reduce the turnover of staff to give more continuity to the children and families we work with, to be more effective at checking we’re meeting the standards we expect from ourselves and to look outward and learn from other authorities.
“I’m thrilled for our staff and delighted for our children and our families to say that our children’s service is now good.”
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