A local authority has “effectively” dealt with increased demand on its children’s services, driven by a local rise in numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, Ofsted has found.
In a report published today, inspectors praised Kent council’s “firm resolve” around improving outcomes for children and young people. The authority, which was judged ‘adequate’ in 2013 and ‘inadequate’ in 2010, received a ‘good’ rating overall.
“Leaders have responded purposefully and methodically to service weaknesses,” the report said. “Senior managers have responded swiftly to changing needs through considered restructuring of services for care leavers. Political leaders have been responsive to budget pressures, supporting increased financial investment.”
The report noted that more than 1,300 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children had entered Kent since January 2015, with the South East authority “continuing to look after and accommodate disproportionately high numbers of children and young people from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa”.
The resulting high demand for services, inspectors found, had “had an impact on placement availability for all children”. But “effective” commissioning arrangements and a fostering recruiting strategy were working to improve the picture, aided by the appointment of new senior managers in the fostering service. “High-quality foster care is in place [and] foster carers spoken to by inspectors were positive,” the report said.
Ofsted also praised Kent council’s support for children on the ‘edge of care’. “A wide range of services… includes an effective family group conferencing service and the adolescent support teams, who work alongside families to enable them to find their own solutions to effect change that is sustainable,” the report said.
Thresholds for children to become looked after were “timely and proportionate”, it added. “When children no longer need to be looked after by the local authority, they return home safely to their birth families with comprehensive support plans.” Meanwhile careful monitoring of children’s progress at Kent’s virtual school had resulted in a decrease in the differences of achievement between looked-after children and their peers at different key stages, inspectors said.
Adoption services, which were brought back in house in January 2016, were also deemed strong, with the council continuing to work with its former external provider as an “improvement and innovation partner”. Post-adoption support was “excellent”, Ofsted said, delivered by “intuitive team members who use their expertise well”.
‘Firm political support’
Ofsted inspectors identified “determined” senior leadership backed by “firm political support” as key factors behind Kent’s improvement over the years, which they acknowledged had started from a “low base”. Around the challenges posed by Kent’s accommodation of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, they noted “cross-party commitment underpinned by financial investment”.
This included enhancing reward packages available to social workers who, Ofsted said, were “loyal” to Kent, with the workforce becoming increasingly stable.
Social work practice, inspectors found, was analysed systematically through “comprehensive quality assurance activity and detailed performance information”. The report noted that quality of practice was evaluated via a range of methods rather than a one-size-fits all approach.
Ofsted did find a number of areas where things could be better, with service for children in need of help and protection and the local safeguarding children board both being graded ‘requires improvement’. Among a series of recommendations, inspectors said that strategy discussions and risk assessments for some children and young people could be made more proactively, and that a draft multi-agency neglect strategy needed to be moved forward urgently.
‘Great staff commitment’
Roger Gough, Kent council’s elected member for children, young people and education, said that it was “particularly pleasing” that Ofsted had found adoption and leaving care services in the county to be strong.
“However, there is always more to be done and we will continue to build on this and address the improvements needed within the service to ensure children and families receive the commitment they deserve,” he added.
Andrew Ireland, the authority’s director of social care, health and wellbeing, said: “The recognition of our hard work across the service, especially in regards to the pressures faced by unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, is a great acknowledgement.”
Ireland said that staff had shown “great commitment”, that morale was strong, and that attention would now be focused on bringing all areas of the service up to a high standard. “We have taken the recommendations forward and devised an action plan to ensure we continue to protect the children of our county,” he said.