Children’s influence praised as strong corporate parenting moves council up to ‘good’ Ofsted rating

Inspection of children's services in Sheffield praises 'impressive' support for care leavers, but grade of child protection offer drops

Photo: EtiAmmos/Fotolia

Ofsted has praised Sheffield council”s corporate parenting and, in particular, its services for care leavers, as it raised its grade to ‘good’ following an inspection last month.

The inspection report said the South Yorkshire council’s offer “emulates what a good parent should be”, noting opportunities ranging from bike workshops to in-house apprenticeships that were advanced to ensure care leavers’ needs were met.

“Children in care and care leavers are helped to understand their rights and entitlements,” it added. “The children in care council and care leavers union… are a group of very articulate and passionate children and young people who are listened to and who are succeeding in supporting and improving the experiences of other children and young people in care.”

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Inspectors said there were “many examples” of the group’s influence, including on improving social work practice and developing a game enabling children to discuss placements, which other local authorities had adopted.

At the other end of the care process, Ofsted noted that Sheffield endeavoured to keep families together through a “broad range of edge-of-care services” and only applied for proceedings when they were “necessary and appropriate”.

“Both [Cafcass] and the local judiciary speak positively about the quality of evidence provided by the local authority,” inspectors said.

‘Right decisions for vulnerable children’

Since Sheffield’s last inspection, which was published in 2014 and found services required improvement, inspectors said senior leaders had made a “substantial commitment to ensuring children receive the right help at the right time”.

They had benefited from “effective challenge” from councillors and strong relationships with partner agencies, which led to a “shared ownership and commitment” to improving children and their families’ lives.

“The maintenance and development of creative services, together with strong performance management and staff care, mean that social workers increasingly benefit from improved management oversight and support,” the report said. “This enables them to reflect on their practice and make the right decisions for vulnerable children.”

Ofsted found that children valued an advocacy service for those experiencing initial child protection conferences, which had recently been expanded to cover core group and review.

Inspectors observed that senior leaders had taken the time to study successful services in other local authorities when making their own improvements – and had either already picked up, or were swift to address, various ongoing weaknesses.

Child protection deficiencies 

Most of these deficiencies were in services for children in need of help and protection, which were graded ‘requires improvement’ – a drop from the previous inspection’s ‘good’.

When the needs of families involved with early help increased, thresholds were not always applied consistently, with some families waiting too long to receive the extra support they needed, Ofsted said.

Another issue was around children at risk of exploitation but not acutely so, with a minority of risk assessments not being routinely updated to stay on top of the level of danger. In a related finding, Ofsted said that foster carers and supervising social workers had not been trained on emerging issues such as ‘county lines’.

Inspectors also found that arrangements for children who go missing were not strong enough – with too much time passing before many were interviewed – and that arrangements around allegations made against professionals were insufficiently robust.

In most instances Ofsted found there were solid action plans already in place where service areas were lagging.

‘Powerful words’

Jackie Drayton, Sheffield’s cabinet member for children, young people and families and lead member for children’s services, said it was great that steady progress had been found by Ofsted despite years of budget cuts.

“A highlight for me was reading that ‘the local authority’s sense of corporate responsibility for children in care and care leavers is unambiguous’ and ‘we provide proactive and committed parenting’,” Drayton said. “These are such powerful words and represent just how dedicated the local authority is to supporting children, young people and families in Sheffield.”

Carly Speechley, the director for children’s services at Sheffield council, paid tribute to the hard work of her staff.

“We are fully on board with the areas highlighted for improvement, having already started work on action plans, prior to Ofsted’s inspection,” Speechley said. “We have made steady progress since our last inspection in 2013, where we have delivered a structured and impactful improvement plan. We are not complacent, and we will continue to work towards improving on those areas identified in the report.”

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