Norfolk’s ‘inadequate’ rated children’s services need to speed up the rate of improvement, Ofsted has warned.
Following an interim monitoring visit, inspectors said the council had made “reasonable progress” in addressing the failings identified at the last inspection in October 2015 but concluded: “there is still a considerable way to go to achieve the lasting and sustainable shift required”.
Norfolk’s was issued with an improvement notice by the Department for Education in 2013 after an ‘inadequate’ inspection rating. After services were again found inadequate in 2015, the department appointed a commissioner to review the service and improvements. The commissioner recommended that children’s services remain under control of the council, rather than an alternative delivery model.
Today’s letter gives the findings of a follow up visit to see how improvements are being implemented.
Looked-after children and care leavers
Inspectors focused on two key areas that had been identified as inadequate in October – looked-after children and care leavers.
There was praise for the council’s “sharper focus” on permanency for looked-after children with evidence of steps taken to manage “drift” and a more child-centred approach leading to better use of foster to adopt arrangements.
A tracker tool for public law cases was also highlighted for contributing to better oversight and use of the pre-proceedings process.
However, the quality of assessments and care plans was still found to be too variable with “too much narrative and not enough analysis” in some cases. Few plans are sufficiently specific or measurable making it difficult to monitor progress, inspectors warned
The council had appointed more independent reviewing officers to bring caseloads in line with national guidance. However the challenge provided by IROs overseeing looked-after children’s care “is not yet consistently effective,” Ofsted found.
“More needs to be done”
For care leavers, the letter noted that the switch to a separate leaving care service had led to some improvement, with the council now in regular face-to-face contact with 80% of care leavers, compared to 75% at the time of the inspection.
However the new teams were “not fully effective”, in part due to capacity issues earlier in the year. An audit of pathway plans that look at support for young people up to age 21 found all either required improvement or were inadequate.
The letter also highlights that many care leavers have care plans as well as pathway plans which “risks duplication and is potentially confusing for the young people and those responsible for supporting them”.
Ofsted note that senior managers and leaders at Norfolk have “responded positively” to the 2015 inspection outcome and interventions.
The council’s director of children’s services, Michael Rosen told the Eastern Daily Press that in his opinion the letter suggested the authority had moved beyond ‘inadequate’:
“It says we are making reasonable progress and are addressing the issues and that is a significant departure. It is not saying we are good, because we are clearly not, but I believe, on balance, it shows we are now ‘requires improvement’.”