Ofsted has praised a council’s focus on stability and learning, judging it ‘outstanding’ in every category of the new Inspection of Local Authority Children Services (ILACS) inspection framework.
In a report published today, North Yorkshire became the first local authority to attain top marks under the framework, introduced this year, which focuses on the effectiveness of frontline social work practice.
Inspectors highlighted a range of efforts on behalf of the council aimed at making the lives of children and young people as settled as possible, which were underpinned by low staff turnover.
“At the heart of the North Yorkshire approach is a belief that stable relationships with workers who know their children and families extremely well is the key to creating and sustaining positive change,” the report said.
Ofsted also lauded North Yorkshire’s commitment to continual improvement, driven by strong leadership with solid practice oversight, and by collaboration with children and families.
‘Meeting needs without delay’
Inspectors found that children and families in North Yorkshire met with effective support from the council from the first point of contact.
“Referral information is appropriately streamlined and identifies key issues that formulate a danger statement and provide a clear analysis,” the report said.
“This enables the receiving team to have a good, early understanding of risks, needs and packages of services that are necessary to help the child. As a result, assessments focus on presenting issues and help to ensure that plans are effective in order to meet a child’s needs without delay.”
Daily exploitation meetings kept at-risk children under review within a multi-agency setting, inspectors noted, while regular contacts with police, schools and early years providers provided an “additional safety net” to children exposed to domestic abuse.
“Prevention teams include skilled and experienced workers, who are providing highly effective support to families,” Ofsted added. “Families remain with workers who know them well and who are best placed to facilitate sustainable, positive change.”
Wherever possible, inspectors found, “high-quality” edge-of-care services ensured that children remained in their family homes, with a focus on returning to live with parents “wherever it is safe and in their best interests” after periods of care.
When placements had to be made, permanence was considered promptly, Ofsted said, with “highly effective” carer recruitment strategies enabling children to maintain links with their families and local communities.
A service developed by the council, the psychologically informed partnership approach (PIPA), meant social workers were able to consult with psychologists to ensure the emotional needs of looked-after children and care leavers were met.
“PIPA, although a relatively new service, has received positive feedback from workers on the beneficial impact that it has had on their work, upskilling them to improve the support they can provide to children,” Ofsted said.
The report also praised North Yorkshire’s ‘No Wrong Door’ project, which offers multi-agency support to looked-after children with complex needs, finding evidence of “very strong practice producing tangible change”. It added that the council’s virtual school demonstrated “commitment to the best possible educational outcomes” and a desire to celebrate the achievements of children in care.
‘Innovation and creativity’
Inspectors concluded that North Yorkshire’s positive engagement with children and families was driven by “innovation and creativity” on the part of senior leaders, whom they said had a “clear vision” that led them to usefully target resources.
“North Yorkshire children’s services is a learning organisation that is continually seeking to develop and improve,” the inspection report said, noting that feedback was “actively sought” from children and families as well as other sources.
Solid oversight of the service and understanding of performance issues had resulted in a number of benefits, Ofsted found.
“There is a clear understanding of frontline practice through multi-agency and individual audit activity,” inspectors said.
“North Yorkshire monitors workloads and has invested in recruitment so effective relationship work with children and families can be maintained,” they added. “Staff report being well supported and there is a clear model of practice that is well embedded, allowing practice to flourish.”
In a letter to the council, Ofsted’s national director for social care, Yvette Stanley, described the report as “an important milestone not just for North Yorkshire, but for the social care and wider children’s services sector”.
She said North Yorkshire’s service quality reflected “hard work and tenacity” on the part of council staff and safeguarding partners.
Isabelle Trowler, England’s chief social worker for children and families, said North Yorkshire was set to “heavily influence” children’s social care practice.
“Determination, ethical and effective practice, high ambition for change, energy and wisdom, from practitioners to senior leaders, has led to this result,” Trowler said.
Janet Sanderson, North Yorkshire’s executive member for children and families, said the council was “hugely proud” of its achievement.
“The quality of practice matters to us and there is a relentless focus on building relationships with families and supporting them to change,” Sanderson said.