by Luke Stevenson and Sarah Dennis
Ofsted inspectors have praised the transformation of children’s services in Rotherham, which it says are now ‘good’ with an element of ‘outstanding’.
In a report published today, Ofsted said the service – which was at the centre of a national scandal in 2014 when it was revealed approximately 1,400 children had been sexually exploited in the area – had taken a “systematic and rigorous approach to improvement” since its ‘inadequate’ rating immediately following the scandal.
“The corporate response and associated change in the quality of children’s services has been impressive,” the report said.
It praised improvements in experiences for children in needing help and protection, saying a “Rotherham family approach” had improved social work practice.
“As a result, the quality of assessments and plans has significantly improved,” inspectors found.
Ian Thomas, Rotherham’s strategic director of children’s services, told Community Care that the council was “delighted with what the inspectors found” and the rating “reflects a lot of hard work over the last three years”.
“Sat here today, 75% of the workforce here now were working for the authority in 2014, so they’ve been on a considerable journey and worked incredibly hard.”
Thomas said when he came to Rotherham caseloads were “too high” and he met a social worker with “48 cases”. He said the council does not use “crude numbers” to measure caseloads, but it monitors them day-by-day to ensure they are “manageable”.
Ofsted praised the financial investment in the workforce which had seen a reduction in agency staff to 16% in September 2017 from a high of 44% in 2015/16.
“Social workers have lower, more manageable caseloads and this means that they are able to build positive relationships with children and spend more time with them,” the report said, adding that staff “feel safe and want to work in Rotherham”.
Ofsted said leaders and senior managers had prioritised improvements to key areas, including developing a multi-agency safeguarding hub, embedding a culture of performance and quality assurance, stringent senior management oversight of frontline practice, and increased staff stability.
“The local authority is effective in its recruitment and retention of high-quality staff. Enhancing the workforce environment, in particular valuing frontline managers and staff, have been essential components in securing change for the better.”
The council’s culture is one of “openness and transparency and genuine dedication”, said the report, adding that the pace of change had created “the right conditions for social work to flourish”.
Rotherham is now receiving good feedback from both children and families and partners, said Mel Meggs, deputy strategic director for children’s services, who added that it was “starting to get compliments for social work”.
“Our schools and health services were also telling us that we’ve been getting better, and their ability to engage and work with us was improving.”
“We believe that we’ve made significant progress, but to have that validated by Ofsted, I think is going to be a massive boost and it’s really important that children and families living in Rotherham are confident about the services they are going to get – it’ll help the communities we work with to trust us to do a good job.”
Care leaver service ‘outstanding’
The council’s service for care leavers was rated ‘outstanding’ in the latest inspection, bouncing back from ‘inadequate’ in 2014. “The majority of care leavers in Rotherham now achieve excellent outcomes,” Ofsted found.
Meggs said: “We’ve invested time, energy, [the staff have] invested commitment. The council has invested significant resource. But we think children and families in Rotherham deserve us to be outstanding across the board, and that’s where we want to go.”
Thomas and Meggs highlighted areas noted by Ofsted as outstanding practice; its proactive approach to complex abuse and use of “mapping approaches where we looked at networks of abuse in child sexual exploitation and applied it to chronic neglect”, the quality of adoption training for families and the Rotherham therapeutic team in place to support children with “very complex needs” which had “already proven to reduce placement breakdown for children with very challenging needs”.
Still more to do
Services for looked-after children ‘requires improvement’, Ofsted said, and it recommended the council ensure managers gave challenging, reflective and directive supervision with the support of independent reviewing officers and conference chairs to address the quality of practice in planning for all children.
Meggs said this was consistent with the council’s self-assessment, but believed the service is on the cusp of turning.
But Thomas stressed the journey across all of children’s services is not over, with the goal to be ‘outstanding’ across the board.
“This is hard fought, easily lost, so there’s no complacency where we’re concerned. We’ve still got work to do but for us it’s a journey that will never end because better never stops.”
“[The Ofsted report] speaks for itself and is testament to the hard work across the partnership. Our ambition is to relentlessly pursue the day we are rated outstanding across the board, by first and foremost our children and families, but for that to be affirmed by the regulator.”
Responding to the report, Nadhim Zahawi, an education minister at the Department for Education, said:
“I’m delighted to see the progress that has been made at Rotherham’s children’s social care, resulting in it being rated ‘good’ by Ofsted. For too long, children and young people in Rotherham were failed by the authorities in charge of protecting them, so it is especially pleasing that Ofsted has noted the strong partnership working now in place at the council.”
He added: “All those who have delivered such vast and rapid improvements in Rotherham should be rightly proud of their efforts. I look forward to them continuing to drive forward this work to make sure every child is kept safe from harm.”