Ofsted praises children’s services’ ‘dynamic, professionally fertile’ environment

'Outstanding' leadership and adoption services singled out for praise in 'good' Ofsted inspection

A local authority’s leadership team has fostered a “dynamic, professionally fertile” environment where social workers are happy and children are effectively safeguarded, Ofsted has said.

In a report on Camden children’s services, published on Friday, inspectors found the council’s leadership, management and governance and adoption services to be ‘outstanding’.

Overall the borough maintained the ‘good’ rating it had received when Ofsted last visited in 2012.

“Leaders and managers in Camden think deeply and creatively about how to continually improve the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable children and families,” inspectors said.

“Social workers enjoy working in Camden and benefit from manageable caseloads and analytical, reflective group supervision.”

‘Highly developed partnerships’

Inspectors praised the service’s work with partner agencies repeatedly, identifying “highly developed arrangements and shared priorities enable children and their families to access the right help at the right time.”

An extensive and “increasingly integrated” range of early help and family support was available to complement and broaden the provision of universal services, inspectors found. As a result, many children’s circumstances improved, avoiding the need for statutory interventions.

A well-developed multi-agency approach also enabled effective responses in more serious situations, such as when dealing with young people at risk of sexual exploitation, radicalisation or involvement in gangs, inspectors found.

“Senior managers anticipate and demonstrate an understanding of the complexity and interdependencies of multiple risks for children,” they said. “Extensive multi-agency partnerships, including the police, children’s social work, youth offending service, CAHMS, public health, clinical commissioning group (CCG) and the voluntary sector, coherently respond to intervene and protect children.”

‘Thoughtful support’

Underpinning the council’s strategic work was a system of “thoughtful support” that enables social workers to play an active role in developing practice and organisational culture, Ofsted found.

A “highly active and visible” principal social worker had played a key role in phasing in a systemic practice model, while frontline staff were empowered to experiment with new ideas and be “innovative in their decision-making”.

As well as social workers, children and young people continued to play a key role in developing services, inspectors said. For example, managers had responded to feedback from looked-after children, changing systems so they no longer have to change social workers when they turn 16.

Senior managers also continued to promote and sustain long-term investment in the work of young inspectors, Ofsted noted. “Their work is outstanding and exceptional in its range and quality.”

It added: “Young inspectors scrutinise areas across the service that are complex and emotionally challenging. They engage children and seek their views, informing subsequent recommendations and plans.”

While Ofsted inspectors hailed Camden’s ‘outstanding’ adoption services, which they said were characterised by a “real sense of urgency”, they flagged up a few areas that could be improved. These included looked-after children’s access to advocacy and independent visitors, and adherence to timescales around some safeguarding procedures.

‘Dedicated and tenacious staff’

Angela Mason, Camden council’s cabinet member for best start in life, said it was right that the local authority’s “bold approach” had been praised by the inspectors.

“Established partnerships and early intervention enables us to help large numbers of families across Camden when things start to go wrong, providing the right support at the right time, successfully reducing the need for many families to receive ongoing statutory involvement,” Mason said.

“The report recognises the dedication and tenacity of our staff, who regularly go above and beyond for children and families across Camden,” she added.

Dominic Clout, the independent chair of Camden’s safeguarding children board, which Ofsted also rated ‘outstanding’, said the challenge was now to “build on the council’s outstanding work and go forward together as a partnership”.

Shropshire and South Tyneside also ‘good’

Inspection reports for children’s services at South Tyneside and Shropshire were published at the same time as Camden’s. Both local authorities also received ‘good’ ratings.

South Tyneside, like Camden, scored top marks for its adoption services. Inspectors noted an “impressive pace of change” at the council, commenting that its chief executive was “resolute in his ambition” to provide outstanding services for children.

While there were still “missed opportunities” in some areas, Ofsted praised South Tyneside’s “strong and dynamic” multi-agency working, which was leading to effective management of risk.

In Shropshire, which was judged ‘adequate’ on Ofsted’s previous visit, inspectors said leaders had “systematically developed and improved services for children”. The recruitment of a number of new managers over the past 18 months had led to a “reinvigorated focus” on practice improvement in safeguarding children, Ofsted said.

There was still room for improvement elsewhere, particularly in services for looked-after children, which were rated ‘requires improvement’.

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