Early help services at ‘good’ council heading off need for higher-level intervention, Ofsted finds

Warrington children’s services progress from ‘requires improvement’, with social workers praised for good understanding of the children they support

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Early help services at Warrington Council are helping to “substantially improve” the circumstances of children in need of help and protection, Ofsted inspectors have said.

Ofsted’s latest inspection at the council, which saw its children’s services rated ‘good’, found the support offered to children and families by skilled early help workers was helping to prevent cases from being stepped up to a higher level of social work intervention.

Inspectors also found early help workers remained allocated to families when they moved from one threshold of need to another, which meant they received consistent support.

‘Consistently high’ practice standards

Warrington’s children’s services were previously rated ‘requires improvement’ in 2015.

The latest inspection, which took place in July this year, found most social work practice around child protection and child in need plans was of a “consistently high standard”.

The report said a change to the service structure, which had been recently implemented, was ensuring children were receiving support from the same social worker – from the point of an assessment through to the stage when the case is stepped down or closed.

However, it added that some children were still experiencing too many changes of social worker, despite this being “a cornerstone” of senior managers’ improvement activity.

The council was also praised for how services respond to children with specific vulnerabilities, such as those who go missing or are at risk of harm and exploitation.

The report said that these children receive well-coordinated and proficient services to assess concerns and reduce risks, and for those who are placed out of area, the quality of support is the same, with the council always responding quickly when they go missing.

‘Diligently tackling obstacles’

The inspection identified positive social work practice for children in care and care leavers, with inspectors praising social workers for having a good understanding of the children they support, regularly visiting children in their placements and thoroughly recording visits.

The report said that many social workers engage in “focused and creative direct work”, which helps children to understand their histories and feelings about being in care.

Inspectors noted extensive efforts to find adoptive families for children and that social workers “diligently tackle obstacles” to ensure children are placed with adopters who can best meet their needs. This has meant an increasing number of children are being placed in “nurturing and loving adoptive families”, the report said.

Social work morale

The senior leadership team and social care managers were praised by inspectors for being “energetic” and “highly committed” to improving services for vulnerable children.

Ofsted’s visit found senior managers were highly focused on driving up the standard of social work and inspectors noted that their goal of bringing team managers closers to frontline practice was already apparent in their “detailed knowledge of children’s cases”.

Most social workers are also permanent and experienced employees, the inspection found, and there is a “continuous supply” of both recently qualified and qualifying workers.

“Social workers’ morale across the service is high, and they are realising the benefits of smaller teams, continuous allocation children, manageable caseloads and the considerable investment in their training and development”, the inspection report said.

It added that most social workers receive regular case supervision and appreciate the importance given to their emotional wellbeing and welfare through regular ‘check-ins’.

The visit found three areas where the council needed to make further improvements:

  • The effectiveness of the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) screening of repeat contacts for children living in circumstances in which they are neglected.
  • Decisive and early protective measures for children on child protection plans who experience neglectful parenting for extended periods.
  • The pace of reviews and decisions for children who live at home and who are subject to care orders.

‘The right support when children need it’

Warrington council’s leader, Russ Bowden, said the result was “hugely important” and a testament to a decade’s investment to improve the support provided to children and families across the borough, which he said would continue with the aim of achieving an ‘outstanding’ grade.

Steve Peddie, the executive director of families and wellbeing, said: “The most important thing for us is how we’re doing in supporting children and families in Warrington and how we are supporting our staff working in very challenging circumstances. Our officers work tirelessly to provide the highest possible quality of care for our most vulnerable children, and I’m thrilled that this work has been recognised by Ofsted.”

Amanda Amesbury, operational director of children’s social care, paid tribute to the council’s “effective partnership” between health, education, the Police and other public service professionals, which she said enables necessary interventions to be arranged quickly, often while assessments are in progress.

“Our practice is based on having good relationships with families and we want to ensure every child has access to the right support when they need it, and that every step is taken to protect children from harm,” she said. “We work closely with our partners every day to achieve this, and this report shows we are doing a lot of things right.”

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