A local authority has been praised for the support it provides to newly-qualified social workers in an Ofsted inspection which saw its rating progress from ‘inadequate’ to ‘requires improvement’.
Inspectors said Norfolk council’s recruitment strategy was “innovative and realistic” and provided a “framework to attract and retain social workers from a variety of sources”.
The council invested in Norfolk’s Institute for Practice Excellence (NIPE) which ensures “good-quality to support” newly-qualified staff, Ofsted said.
“The NIPE has had, and continues to have, a very positive impact on recruitment and retention, and is driving up practice standards. Social workers who have come through the NIPE talk very positively about their experiences and the quality of support and supervision provided,” the report said.
The council was also praised for its ‘outstanding’ adoption service with its work at increasing ‘foster to adopt’ placements highlighted as a strength.
‘Turnover in leadership hampered progress’
Despite improvements, inspectors said turnover of senior leaders since 2015 had “hampered the local authority’s progress in tackling critical weaknesses”. However, a new permanent director was carrying on the “momentum” of the interims before him.
A restructure within the council was judged as “beginning to achieve results”, but there was a lack of consistency of practise.
“Not all localities have yet embedded the changes, and this had led to instability for some children due to transfers of social worker. There has been success in reducing caseloads to more manageable levels, but caseloads remain too high in some parts of the service, particularly the assessment teams,” the report said.
The children’s services were granted a one-off investment of £12 – £15 million over the next four years in September.
Responses to “lower-level” concerns referred to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) were not as timely as urgent concerns, Ofsted found.
Inspectors stressed the need for the council to improve caseloads for staff and give more consistency of social worker to children, so they can establish more meaningful relationships. It also recommended there be “sufficient capacity and effective systems” in the council’s safeguarding hub to support timely decision-making.
Sara Tough, executive director of children’s services, said staff were “ambitious and determined” to continue improving the service.
“Our department is well on the way to achieving the good judgement that we all want to see for Norfolk’s children and this report fairly reflects what we are doing well and where we still need to improve. We are already addressing these areas – we have increased capacity in the MASH and our efforts to recruit and retain more social workers are bearing fruit and can only be helped by this judgement.
“Our adoption service is now outstanding, having being judged as requires improvement less than three years ago. That demonstrates that we have the capacity and ambition to deliver the very best services for our children.”