A council where “good social work is flourishing” has become only the third in England to have its children’s services rated as ‘outstanding’ overall.
North Lincolnshire has been praised by Ofsted inspectors for its performance across all areas, with only child protection rated ‘good’ rather than ‘outstanding’.
Social workers were “overwhelmingly positive about working for the authority and the support and training they receive”, inspectors said, and had “manageable caseloads that support highly effective engagement with children and casework of a consistently good quality”.
They said there was a “strong support package to protect and develop the skills of social workers who are in their first post-qualification year of practice”, and praised the authority’s principal social worker for “driving [a] learning culture and in ensuring that training and development are well linked to learning from performance and quality management”.
“As a result of this, the local authority has created an environment in which good practice can thrive. This in turn is supporting the achievement of good and improving outcomes for children,” their report said.
Low staff turnover
At 31 March 2017, 74% of social workers had more than three years’ post-qualification experience, while annual social worker turnover was 11%, which the report described as an “impressive achievement”.
Inspectors said multi-agency arrangements to identify, support and protect children at risk of child sexual exploitation and children who go missing were “exceptional”, while appropriate arrangements and services were in place to respond to homeless 16- and 17-year-olds.
Return home interviews conducted by independent advocates were “timely, analytical and of good quality”. In the year to 31 March 2017, 92% of children who went missing from home or care agreed to a return interview, and 78% of those interviews were carried out within 72 hours.
Children placed close to home
Services for looked-after children were also ‘outstanding’, with more than 90% placed within 20 miles of their homes and most in “high quality in-house provision”.
“This means that children benefit from a range of good and accessible services, which effectively support stable placements and demonstrably improve outcomes for them,” the report said.
Inspectors praised North Lincolnshire’s “seamless 24-hour social work service” and its “readily available service from a dedicated and responsive CAMHS for children looked after”. The council had also “done much to ensure that effective and coordinated arrangements and responses to female genital mutilation are in place”.
Inspectors also highlighted the PHASE social enterprise set up by North Lincolnshire, from which it commissions all of its accommodation for care leavers.
They said PHASE had “increased the range of housing options, so that it is now possible for a care leaver to move up a ladder of different types of accommodation before reaching a fully independent tenancy”. PHASE has a complex of flats and houses which aims to help young parents, most of them care leavers, to develop their parenting skills, and care safely for their babies.
‘Listening to children’
Mick Gibbs, director of children and community resilience at North Lincolnshire Council, said: “In North Lincolnshire, we work together with partner agencies – police, health, education and with foster carers, adopters and others to improve outcomes for children: to keep them safe, well and help them reach their potential.
“We have placed the child at the heart of what we do and listen to their voice. I am pleased with the judgement which reflects positively upon a staff team who are motivated to deliver best practice.”
In previous inspections in 2012, North Lincolnshire’s safeguarding arrangements were rated ‘good’ and its services for looked-after children ‘outstanding’.
Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea councils are the only other local authorities to have children’s services rated as ‘outstanding’ overall.
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