Ofsted inspectors have praised Stockport council’s ‘outstanding’ adoption services in a positive report published last week.
During visits to the local authority in June and July, inspectors observed “high-quality, expert and responsive support” for children and adopters. They rated Stockport’s children’s services as ‘good’ overall, compared with an ‘adequate’ judgment five years previously.
Inspectors also found improvements in practice, despite increased demand, throughout the Greater Manchester council’s children’s services.
‘Clear strategic vision’
In assessing the across-the-board improvements, Ofsted’s report noted that over the past two years Stockport had “spearheaded an ambitious programme of cultural and structural transformation of how agencies work with children and families… based on a clear strategic vision of improving outcomes for vulnerable children through restorative practice”.
While inspectors deemed it too early to fully evaluate the model’s success, they praised the council’s “well-aligned” planning and clear governance arrangements.
“The director of children’s services and his senior leadership team ensure that practice development is informed by research, feedback from children and best practice elsewhere,” the report added.
While they observed that caseloads were still too high and, partly as a result, supervision could be more effective, inspectors found staff to be “enthusiastic and highly committed”.
‘Skilled social work support’
Nowhere was this more apparent than in Stockport’s “exemplary” adoption services, Ofsted found. “Managers continuously scrutinise the timeliness of plans, explore the impact on children of any delays and rigorously challenge why these occurred,” the report said. “Family-finding strategies are creative, well recorded and highly effective in identifying families in a timely way.”
Inspectors also praised “skilled social work support and advice” for adopters, ensuring that placements were stable. They noted that the use of research, and learning from children’s and adopters’ experiences, meant that support plans were “comprehensive and regularly reviewed”.
Support as part of provision for care leavers – rated good overall – was also found to be “well-coordinated”.
“Care leavers enjoy stable and enduring relationships with staff and carers who meet their needs, and contact is maintained well into their twenties,” the report said. “The vast majority feel safe and secure in suitable and safe housing that includes staying put with their foster carers or becoming successful tenants in their own properties.”
‘Thorough analysis of need’
Elsewhere, the inspection noted that a “thorough analysis of local need” had helped inform an ambitious early help and prevention strategy. As a result of schools being allocated liaison social workers, children with more complex needs were being assessed and supported within school settings, helping them to have more settled lives, the Ofsted report said.
Inspectors did, however, identify a number of areas for improvement. While generally effective, they found that Stockport’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding and Support Hub (MASSH) didn’t always process non-urgent contacts in a timely manner.
Ofsted also recommended that caseloads of both social workers and independent reviewing officers be reduced, and that access to advocacy be improved for looked-after children. Overall, though, the report described social work practice as “consistently strong”.
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