Ofsted praises record-breaking improvements at Cambridgeshire children’s services

Cambridgeshire children's services jumps from 'inadequate' to 'good' in its latest Ofsted inspection

Cambridgeshire has become the first local authority to see its children’s services jump from inadequate to good in the space of one Ofsted inspection.

The service, rated inadequate when it was last inspected two years ago, was judged to be overall good in a report published by Ofsted.

Councillor Joan Whitehead, chairwoman of Cambridgeshire’s children and young people’s committee, said: “We were right to keep our faith in the current leadership of children’s services – and that faith has been vindicated.”

The report complimented the environment created at the children’s services, saying: “Social workers report feeling safe, secure and valued in an environment where good social work practice can flourish.”

Methods of improvement were also acknowledged, with compliments being paid to monthly improvement board meetings and workshops that work to support the improvement programme when shortfalls are identified.

Speaking about how they made this previously unheard of transition Niki Clemo, director of children’s social care at Cambridgeshire County Council, said that after the 2012 inspection “we didn’t allow ourselves to be disappointed”.

At the time of the 2012 inspection, Cambridgeshire’s services were in the process of adopting the Hackney Reclaiming Social Work model. “We rolled our sleeves up and carried on with the job we were doing because we had early evidence it was working,” said Clemo.

Clemo said they wanted to make a transition from a period of social workers “spending 80% of their time behind screens” to a practice-focused environment “knowing that seeing children is what keeps them safe”.

She said the key was “giving social workers the correct tools to do the job”, they invested in iPads and made sure the social work units gave time and meetings for reflective practice.

“We had monthly meetings with all of our staff for them to feedback to us what they felt was working and what wasn’t, and we acted on it…and that action was positively reflected in the report,” she said.

Ofsted recommended that the council now makes sure that social workers’ skills and development needs are sufficiently explored and translated into individual professional development plans and ensure that child protection plans are specific and measurable.

Niki Clemo, Cambridgeshire’s director of children’s social care, identifies the key things that helped turn the service around:

County council leadership – Clemo says the involvement in the services were positive, the entire community was behind them and political leaders in the area were united in their support. The decision to stick with their staff was welcomed as there is a tendency for staff to be changed after negative reports.

Partnerships – Clemo says involving all teams, not just children’s social care, was important to improving child safeguarding and services. Bringing early help, health and the police into the fold was very important.

Listening to practitioners – Monthly meetings were held for practitioners to give their feedback on what was and wasn’t working. Clemo also became involved on the floor, got to know the social workers and their concerns, and maintained dialogue with them.

Attention to detail – The council acted upon feedback and made sure each social worker was equipped with what was needed for them to act effectively. Social work units also enabled time and groups for debate and better reflection on cases. Clemo says there needs to be “a clear support of frontline work”.

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