Moves to help social workers ‘flourish’ have been key to a turnaround in the quality of a children’s services department twice rated ‘inadequate’ in recent years, Ofsted has found.
A report by Ofsted published today rated Cornwall’s services as ‘good’. Inspectors praised senior management for a “significant” and continued investment in social work that meant practitioners had manageable caseloads, good training and supervision, a “comprehensive” career pathway and more chances to do “child-centred” practice and direct work.
“In doing so they have created a culture of learning, support and challenge in a professional environment that has enabled social work to flourish,” the inspection report concluded.
The council’s trainee scheme for up to 18 new social workers at any one time, and its assessed and supported year programme, had helped cut vacancy rates and reliance on agency social workers, Ofsted found. The quality of practice in early help services and the council’s level of involvement and consultation with looked after young people were also highlighted as strengths.
‘A major achievement’
The findings mark a substantial improvement given Cornwall’s recent history. The council’s children’s services were placed under government intervention between 2009 and 2013, during which safeguarding services were twice rated ‘inadequate’. The intervention ended in 2013 after child protection services were deemed ‘adequate’.
Those inspections were under Ofsted’s old inspection regime. Today’s report marks the first time Cornwall has been inspected under a new single inspection framework introduced.
Responding to the council being given a ‘good’ rating, Trevor Doughty, Cornwall’s director of children’s services, said: “This is a major achievement under the tougher new Ofsted inspection framework. The Chief Inspector for Ofsted is on record for deliberately making it much more difficult for children’s services to achieve a ‘Good’ rating.
“This is reflected in the fact that over 73% of local authority children’s services inspected under the new regime have been rated either ‘Inadequate’ or ‘Requires Improvement’, with just 12% of the 90 authorities whose reports have been published during this period improving to ‘Good’. In Cornwall we see this raising of the bar by Ofsted as tough for us but good for children.
“The progress we are making is even more significant when compared to other local authorities that were rated as ‘Inadequate’ in 2010/11. Of the five authorities receiving this judgement then only Cornwall has improved to ‘Good’, with two of the other authorities either remaining or falling back to ‘Inadequate’.”
Further improvements needed
Ofsted found “almost all” areas for improvement identified when Cornwall was under government intervention had been tackled and the services were in “a much stronger position”.
However, inspectors found further improvements were still needed in the timeliness of stage 1 adoption assessments and the quality of safety plans for children at risk of sexual exploitation. A policy of only the youngest or most vulnerable child within a group of siblings having a named social worker was also flawed, inspectors found, while recognising senior managers had recognised this and took “swift action” to address it.
Ofsted made eight recommendations for improvements. The council should strengthen arrangements to address the risk of child sexual exploitation, make greater efforts to inform homeless young people of their rights around accommodation, and ensure all permanence decisions for brother or sisters are informed by a formal together or apart assessment.
Jack Cordery, the council’s head of service for children’s social care, said services had taken the feedback from inspectors “on board” and implementing an action plan that aimed to achieve an ‘Outstanding’ rating at their next inspection. He said the improvements so far were largely down to the “dedication, hard work and skill of staff working on the frontline, many of whom go way beyond what’s expected of them to help protect the most vulnerable children of Cornwall”.