Ofsted inspectors have said a council’s move into a community interest company “added value” to social work services.
In an inspection report published today, inspectors said children’s services in Richmond were ‘good’ overall. The service has been run by community interest company Achieving for Children since 2014.
Achieving for Children also manages services in Kingston and, since April this year, Windsor and Maidenhead. It is joint-owned by Richmond, Kingston and Windsor and Maidenhead councils and receives its funding from them, it also provides improvement support to other local authorities.
The report found: “The local authority has invested significantly in its services to children, and this means that a rich range of resources are available to support them.”
“Economies of scale allow the company to offer a more joined up and efficient business support service than each constituent small local authority could potentially provide.”
Examples of this included learning and development plans and the quality assurance framework, which were managed by a small team and dedicated intelligence officers respectively, and operated across the whole company.
“Because the company delivers these functions centrally, frontline managers can appropriately devote their time and energy directly to the provision of services to children and young people,” the report said.
Ofsted praised senior leaders for supporting social work to “flourish” and workforce planning which had led to “major successes through supported professional development for social workers”.
“Social workers, including newly qualified workers, are offered career progression by a small, dedicated team of practice development consultants. This is delivered through both action learning sets and one-to-one sessions. An active staff council that advises on learning needs supports the programme.”
It added that staff retention had increased, and the number of vacancies had fallen from 25% to 12%.
Ofsted rated the council ‘good’ in every measure, but said the quality of social work supervision recording could be improved. It said currently some social workers were not receiving the level of reflective management that would support good practice.
It added Achieving for Children could better explain changes to the service to some key stakeholders who had felt left out of the process. While the move into a company had “added value”, its implementation had been “uneven”.
It added: “Not enough has been done to engage these stakeholders in meaningful consultation about the positive effects of changes to the way that services are provided.” The report recommended the company better engages all stakeholders about changes in the future.
It also recommended the council ensured a rationale for permanence plans for looked-after children was clearly recorded on children’s records. This was after child permanence reports were identified as a training need, because some were “not always detailed enough”.