Ofsted has praised ‘exemplary’ social work management at all levels of a London borough’s children’s services, which it said was enabling practitioners to do ‘outstanding’ work.
In a visit to Redbridge council, inspectors found the local authority was delivering at the highest possible level across most teams.
“Children’s needs and the services they receive are put under comprehensive scrutiny and are well considered,” the inspection report said.
“Staff feel safe and supported, with accessible managers who help them reflect on their work,” it added, noting that the council had built a stable, contented workforce and reduced agency numbers from 63 to 29. “Case direction from frontline and middle managers in Redbridge is extensive, thorough, analytical and professionally challenging.”
Inspectors said that senior leaders at Redbridge, which received a ‘good’ grade at its last inspection in 2016, had a “relentless drive and ambition for children” that led them to keep improving services that were already strong.
Front door ‘model of excellence’
Ofsted spoke particularly highly of Redbridge’s ‘outstanding’ child protection services, starting with the front door – described as a “model of efficiency and excellence” – and multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH).
“Where children are at high risk of harm, authoritative action ensures that the MASH social worker and assessment duty team work simultaneously to provide an immediate and fully informed joint response,” inspectors said. “The research and analysis by the MASH social workers of incoming cases are of an exceptionally high standard.”
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Since 2018 Redbridge had flexibly and successfully refocused its early intervention services to meet local need, especially for teenagers at risk of exploitation, the visit found.
Specialist gangs workers, for example, were helping ensure a focus on protecting young people at the highest risk.
Meanwhile strong relationships with families of children in need and on protection plans were driving practice improvements, inspectors said.
“Written feedback is sought from parents who experience child protection processes and this is used by managers to understand and improve the service provided,” Ofsted said. “Nearly 90% of parents said they were able and supported to participate in the child protection process.”
‘Creative and thoughtful’ service
Redbridge’s services for children in care, rated ‘good’, were found to be “creative and thoughtful” in responding to the increasingly complex needs of the children they serve, who were visited regularly by social workers.
Numbers of children entering care had been kept low as a result of “purposeful planning” and support to keep them at home wherever possible, inspectors said.
“Care proceedings are initiated when required and pre-proceedings and court work are of a consistently good quality,” they added. “Cafcass and the local judiciary reported favourably on the high-quality and timely pre-proceedings and care proceedings work undertaken.”
One area identified for improvement was around Redbridge’s care leavers’ service, which is commissioned out.
“Despite the investment and oversight provided by local authority senior managers, the day-to-day service for care leavers remains variable, with young people receiving different experiences and levels of support,” the report said. “Some casework practice is strong, but the service offered by the external provider has been hindered by changes in staffing and management within the contract.”
‘Providing for children and young people is our privilege’
Redbridge’s cabinet member for children and young people, Elaine Norman, paid tribute to the council’s social workers for achieving the highest possible grade from the watchdog.
“Determination, hard work and an exceptional ambition to improve has led to this result,” she said. “I’d like to thank every one of them. For Ofsted to recognise the significant progress we have made and the excellence our services for the most vulnerable children in our borough makes me extremely proud.”
Council leader Jas Athwal said the authority would continue to deliver for residents despite having lost 60% of its funding over the past decade.
“Ensuring our children and young people are properly provided for is our responsibility but it is also our privilege,” he said. “I want to congratulate everyone involved in both devising and delivering an exemplary service.”