Children’s services praised for focus on prevention and workforce stability

But inspectors raise concerns about some areas of North East Lincolnshire’s child protection services, including timeliness and quality of assessments

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A children’s services department which has more than halved staff turnover in two years has been praised for its progress by inspectors.

North East Lincolnshire council’s children’s services have been rated as ‘good’ overall following the inspection by Ofsted in July and August. It said children’s needs were “identified and met more quickly” than at the time of a previous inspection in 2012, and strengthening preventative services to reduce the demand for statutory social care was “beginning to have the desired impact”.

The most deprived areas of North East Lincolnshire, which covers towns including Grimsby and Cleethorpes, were also “benefiting from multi-agency, targeted interventions that are intended to have long-term impact on outcomes for children and families”.

Assessment problems

However, inspectors rated the council’s child protection services as ‘requires improvement’, and identified problems with the timeliness and quality of assessments, and the quality of child in need and child protection plans.

Their report said that too many single assessments “take too long to be completed, and performance has not improved despite management actions intended to tackle this”.

This meant that some children and families “experience drift and delay while their needs are identified, before a clear plan of support is put in place”.

Also, the use of a preferred assessment tool to identify and respond to neglect was “underdeveloped within children’s social care and in other services”, and some children had “remained in neglectful situations for too long”.

While some social work assessments were “thorough, with a clear analysis”, they found that others were “overly descriptive, without sufficient emphasis on analysing the child’s and family’s situation”.

“Too many assessments take too long to be completed,” the report added: “They are not always updated in response to significant change to the child’s circumstances. These factors means that some children and families wait too long for actions to address their needs, and intervention plans do not always reflect current risks and protective factors.”

Workforce improvements

As well as the reduction in staff turnover, inspectors pointed to continuing efforts to improve workforce stability “on a regional basis”, and to “increase the qualifications and expertise of the workforce”.

Other findings included:

  • the council “works well with its partners to safeguard children who go missing and those at risk of child sexual exploitation or radicalisation”
  • thresholds for statutory children’s social care involvement are “widely disseminated and generally understood across partner agencies”
  • decisions that children should come into care are “appropriate and timely” and North East Lincolnshire is successful in nearly all its applications for care orders to the courts
  • children are enabled to return to the care of their parents when it is safe to do so, with arrangements “carefully monitored and supported”
  • more children would benefit from independent visitors and support from the “effective” advocacy service
  • adoption performance is good and improving, but child permanence reports are “variable in quality”. Social workers “visit regularly and know their children well”
  • private fostering is “not promoted or given sufficient priority across the children’s workforce”

The previous inspection of North East Lincolnshire’s children’s services, in May 2012, rated safeguarding arrangements as ‘adequate’, while its services for looked-after children were judged to be ‘good’.

Councillor Ros James, North East Lincolnshire’s portfolio holder for children and young people, said Ofsted had “recognised the huge amount of work the authority has progressed in the last few years”.

“The service has changed significantly with a more stable workforce and good relationships with those in our care,” she said.

“Credit must go to the staff in the service for embracing the changes, and for closer working with all our partners. Many people work together to help children and young people to achieve their goals and stay safe, including family support workers, social workers, health workers, the police and youth workers, and together, we deliver the quality service deserved by some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.

“There is always more to be done, but we’ve made significant steps in the right direction.”

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