Ofsted inspectors have found encouraging signs at a London borough, just over a year after publishing a report finding its children’s services ‘inadequate’.
In a fourth monitoring visit, which focused on services for looked-after children, inspectors said Barnet council was maintaining a “consistent and strong focus on improving services and the quality of social work practice”.
Ofsted found a stabilising workforce was helping social workers build better relationships with children, as well as boosting morale.
The monitoring visit report also praised progress made by managers in implementing better quality assurance processes and tightening up oversight.
“Inspectors found a stronger core of improved practice, with children seen to be appropriately looked after, and their needs for permanence and stability being mostly met,” the report said.
‘Positive shift in culture’
More manageable caseloads were one major factor in those improvements, with social workers saying they had more time to take part in direct work with children – which in turn was becoming “more purposeful”.
“Those spoken to by inspectors reported that they liked working in Barnet and welcomed the positive shift in culture towards more child-centred practice and relationship working with children and families,” the report said.
At first line manager level, Ofsted found more posts had now been filled permanently, giving frontline practitioners more stability.
“Audits accurately identify practice improvements and determine appropriate actions for staff, who are open to learning to improve their practice,” inspectors said.
Supervision, however, was found to be inconsistent, not always being carried out regularly and in some cases lacking reflection and challenge.
Inspectors also noted a number of practice areas that remained hit-and-miss, including around life-story work, and work with children’s families and connected carers.
David Longstaff, chair of Barnet’s children, education and safeguarding committee, said: “The safety and welfare of our children remains our top priority and I am pleased to see that Ofsted has recognised that we have begun to establish improvements in social work practice.”
He added: “We acknowledge there is still a great deal of hard work ahead, and will continue to focus our efforts on making the improvements we need to make.”
‘Clear arrangements for young people’
In a separate monitoring visit to Reading council – its seventh since being found ‘inadequate’ in June 2016 – Ofsted also made mostly positive observations.
Inspectors, who homed in on transition work being undertaken with 16- and 17-year-olds preparing to leave care, noted that good joint-working practices delivered “suitable, clear arrangements for young people after they turn 18”.
Ofsted found direct work with young people to be a particular strength, encouraging many to pursue education and employment opportunities. Senior managers, meanwhile, had “worked methodically” to improve housing options for young people in the area.
But the monitoring visit report said that some areas for improvement found in 2016 were still being acted upon too slowly – including around the provision of written information for young people. Inspectors also found that caseloads for leaving care advisors (LCAs) remained too high.
Liz Terry, Reading’s lead councillor for children’s services, said she was pleased that Ofsted had recognised the commitment of social workers and LCAs.
“Inspectors found there is a good level of guidance and support for young people in Reading who are leaving care and embarking on their adult lives,” she said. “There are also some areas of improvement identified by inspectors which the team are already working hard to address.”