The Ofsted Interview: ‘Good social work is predicated on having a manageable caseload’

How one 'outstanding' council has invested in social worker career development, innovative approaches and relationship-based practice

After a journey of improvement spanning close to a decade, children’s services at Leeds council was judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in its latest inspection, with the regulator’s findings published at the start of this year.

The service was praised for its “highly motivated” social workers and a leadership team “with a clear and ambitious vision for what it wishes to achieve for the children of Leeds”. Ofsted also highlighted the investment in practice and career development which it noted has supported the “effective recruitment and retention” of staff.

“There is a strong workforce development programme that promotes continuous development for all staff, with a focus on improving practice and outcomes for children. There is a clear career structure in which people can progress and they are encouraged to do so. There is a thorough understanding of the practice model and expectations, and people are motivated to provide the best service they can for children and families,” said Ofsted of the service.

In the latest episode of Community Care’s The Ofsted Interview podcast series, Leeds council’s director of children’s services Steve Walker describes how the council has embedded career development opportunities for its workforce and how it is looking to continue improvements in its services to children in care and care leavers.

Listen to Walker discuss the established ‘Leeds Practice Model’, the service’s approach to managing caseloads and how it intends to maintain the progress made below or subscribe to the series on iTunes, and read our quick table for the key findings from Ofsted’s inspection.

Highlights from the Ofsted inspection: Leeds council

Area of service Ofsted inspection findings 2018
The experience and progress of children who need help and protection Outstanding:Leeds local authority has invested in a range of services, including multi-systemic therapy (MST) and family group conferencing to facilitate problem-solving by the family themselves. This is helping to prevent concerns escalating and diverting children away from more formal child protection procedures, ensuring that issues are resolved with the least intrusive intervention.
The experience and progress of children who need help and protection Outstanding: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. This facilitates the development of trusting relationships and reduces the number of professionals in the family’s life. Social workers know their children well, and children are seen regularly and seen alone.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers Good:Children leaving care have access to a range of accommodation options and are supported to live independently. The local authority has had success in encouraging children to stay put with foster carers beyond 18 years old, further facilitating stability in the lives of those young people. It is acknowledged that more needs to be done to improve the numbers of care leavers in education, employment and training, and this is a key focus of the service.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers Good: Children are encouraged to keep themselves safe and there is an effective multi-agency approach to addressing risks such as sexual exploitation and going missing. Safety planning and risk meetings ensure that risks are reduced, tracked and monitored over time to ensure that change is sustained. Return home interviews are comprehensive and enable an understanding of the reasons why children go missing.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families Outstanding:There is a clear ‘Leeds Practice Model’ and a clear identity as a service that has been developed and maintained over an extended period. Restorative practice is well understood by all staff and partners, and the vision set by senior leaders impacts at all levels. The workforce is motivated and committed to ensuring that this is translated into practice with families.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families Outstanding:The local authority has invested in practice and career development opportunities, which has supported the effective recruitment and retention of staff. This has been successful, vacancy rates are very low, and a clear majority of workers now have more than two years’ experience. Managers are experienced, and more experienced social workers work alongside newly-qualified workers to provide a good balance of experience and support. Having a settled workforce has facilitated effective relationship-based social work. Caseloads are carefully monitored, and while numbers fluctuate, social workers describe their caseloads as manageable and allowing them to build meaningful relationships with children and families
Overall effectiveness Outstanding:Leaders have established a well-understood practice model that promotes child-centred work and productive working relationships between workers and families, as well as giving a clear overview of the outcomes desired. The local authority is a committed corporate parent that is ambitious for its children, that encourages children to realise their potential and that celebrates their achievements.
Overall effectiveness Outstanding:Leaders are committed to continuous improvement, invite feedback and engage in innovations to further enhance services. This is reflected in an accurate self-evaluation and improvement plan, focusing not just on successes but also on areas where further work is required.

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2 Responses to The Ofsted Interview: ‘Good social work is predicated on having a manageable caseload’

  1. Angela February 26, 2019 at 7:17 pm #

    Congratulations to you, the sort of authority and social work many of us can only dream off and sadly many authorities, to many fail to achieve… but that should not take away from the amazing changes you have made

  2. Mark March 2, 2019 at 8:22 am #

    Great news! Inspiring to hear the fantastic work your doing. Keep moving forward.