Ofsted has hailed a local authority’s strategic focus on establishing a “balanced” and “loyal” social work workforce as it awarded it an ‘outstanding’ judgement this week.
The regulator said that Leeds council had “invested in practice and career development opportunities, which has supported the effective recruitment and retention of staff”.
Turnover and vacancy rates were now “very low”, with a “clear majority” of social workers having more than two years’ post-qualification experience, and seasoned practitioners able to support more junior colleagues. Managers at the west Yorkshire authority were likewise found to be experienced.
“Having a settled workforce has facilitated effective relationship-based social work,” inspectors said. “Caseloads are carefully monitored, and while numbers fluctuate, social workers describe them as manageable and allowing them to build meaningful relationships with children and families.”
Ofsted deemed leadership at Leeds to be ‘outstanding’, noting that the council has a “clear vision of what it is seeking to achieve”.
Investment was ongoing in new approaches to practice, inspectors said, while feedback – including from external bodies and children and families – was actively sought. Ofsted also noted Leeds’ Partner in Practice support for other councils, notably Kirklees.
A recurring theme in the inspection was the council’s focus on ensuring people could access help at the earliest possible stage, and inspectors praised Leeds council’s “commitment to family-based support”. They noted that children’s centres – which in many areas have faced waves of closures – had been maintained and strategic partnerships nurtured.
Within help and protection services, also judged ‘outstanding’, Ofsted observed that the children’s services front door had done away with traditional thresholds.
Instead, they said an approach of having the “right conversation at the right time” had been implemented, which was enabling families to access services that met their needs.
“Relationship-based practice is a clear feature of the work in Leeds, children are allocated a social worker in a timely way and, wherever possible, they remain with the same social worker throughout the family involvement,” inspectors said. “This facilitates the development of trusting relationships and reduces the number of professionals in the family’s life.”
‘Consistent social work’
Services for children in care and care leavers were rated ‘good’ by inspectors, who noted that the local judiciary had praised Leeds’ high standards of court work.
Children were well supported in maintaining relationships with their extended families and, wherever possible, to return to live with their parents, Ofsted said.
“Against local trends, leaders have maintained investment in the family drug and alcohol court (FDAC) to support this work for families in court proceedings,” they observed.
Social workers, inspectors said, were “consistent people in [children in care]’s lives and keen advocates for then”, who acted on their wishes and feelings.
“Direct work supports young people to help them understand their life histories and the reasons why they are in care,” Ofsted added. “Positive outcomes are promoted through good-quality care plans, which are updated and reviewed on a regular basis. Independent reviewing officers ensure children are seen and supported to contribute to their review and to influence planning.”
Inspectors noted a few areas in which the local authority could improve, including more consistently involving health agencies in strategy discussions and ensuring children’s culture and identity was fully considered in all assessments.
Responding to the ‘outstanding’ judgment, Leeds council’s director of children’s services, Steve Walker, said it illustrated that the authority was taking “huge steps in the right direction” towards becoming a child-friendly city.
“I’d like to personally thank all the staff across the service who work really hard and put children and young people at the heart of everything they do,” Walker said. “Everyone has a part to play in achieving this well-deserved result and I am so proud that together we are helping to improve the lives of children and young people across the city.”
Lisa Mulherin, Leeds council’s executive member for children and families, said the result was “well deserved” and an “important milestone” for the city.
“We work incredibly hard with partners across the city to improve the lives of all our children and young people,” she said. “We are, however, not complacent and we will continue doing all we can working with children and families to further improve our services.”