A council has gone from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘outstanding’ after Ofsted found its “exceptionally strong” corporate parenting meant children in care and care leavers were “cared for and cared about”.
Inspectors said Telford and Wrekin’s focus on stability and permanence, direct work and life-story work were particular strengths, and praised its success in diverting children from care.
“A highly effective and creative service successfully assists children to remain with their birth family, or supports a return to their family wherever it is safe to do so,” inspectors said in a report after visiting Telford and Wrekin in January.
The result, which lifted Telford and Wrekin two grades from the ‘requires improvement’ rating it received in 2016, made it the only authority to claim a top ranking in the West Midlands.
Inspectors made clear that the improvement was driven by strong corporate and political leadership – also deemed ‘outstanding’ – at the local authority.
“Senior leaders have a clear and transformative vision for services to sustainably improve the lives of vulnerable children and their families in Telford and Wrekin,” they said.
Ofsted described the council’s learning culture as another key area of strength, noting that social workers and support staff were “valued and invested in as the most precious resource” for vulnerable children and families, with capacity enhanced by training social workers to train others in the service.
The “highly committed and experienced” workforce also benefited from mangeable workloads, focused supervision and a new career progression and pay structure.
Services for children in need of help and protection, meanwhile, were rated ‘good’, with the quality of direct work again singled out but a few issues identified around record keeping and decision making.
‘Exceptional’ life-story work
Social workers involved with children in care knew them well, saw them regularly and encouraged them to participate in planning and reviews wherever possible, inspectors found.
“Children’s views are recorded well, and the lived experiences of even very young children are captured in the records,” Ofsted’s report said.
More recent Ofsted findings
Life-story work was highlighted as an area of “exceptional practice” by inspectors. “It is not seen as a ‘one off’ piece of work, but is continually revisited throughout a child’s life and at key developmental stages,” they said.
Dedicated therapeutic practitioners worked directly with some children, and additionally supported social workers to become more confident in helping children understand and capture memories, Ofsted added.
Inspectors recorded significant improvements in Telford and Wrekin’s response to children who went missing from care, with time taken to explore reasons why they had run away and appropriate work carried out to lessen repeat incidents.
‘Non-judgmental and helpful support’
At the other end of the service, inspectors found that families involved with early help benefited from access to “an impressive range of supportive and accessible services and helpful staff”.
“Parents spoken to were extremely positive about the non-judgmental and helpful support they receive, which is making a difference to them and their children’s lives,” Ofsted said.
Meanwhile social workers based in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) and in safeguarding teams were described as “professionally curious and passionate” and “tenacious”, respectively.
Pre-birth assessments were found to be of particularly high quality, with parents offered help and support as early as possible and and a specialist team becoming involved where concerns arose.
“When born, and when it is in the child’s best interest, parents are supported to safely parent, and they benefit from a further parenting assessment to inform the longer-term plan,” Ofsted said. “When children need to become looked after, managers are decisive, and, in these instances, family members are considered in a timely way.”
‘We are not going to rest on our laurels’
Shaun Davies, the leader of Telford and Wrekin council, said he was “absolutely delighted” that social work teams had secured an ‘outstanding’ grade.
“We have been ruthless in making sure we are improving our services but we are not going to rest on our laurels here,” he said. “We are ambitious and aspirational for the future and we want to further build on our outstanding and nationally recognised practice.”
Shirley Reynolds, Telford and Wrekin’s cabinet member for children and young people and education, said the verdict was “an astonishing achievement and one that we can be extremely proud of”.
“Since 2011, we have been focused on improving our children’s services, ensuring every part of the council puts children at the heart of everything we do,” Reynolds said.
“We put in place a focused plan to make sure we addressed the issues Ofsted raised last time and we are delighted our hard work over the last three years has been recognised,” she added. “We have a clear and ambitious vision for vulnerable children and families in Telford and Wrekin to provide a service for every child that we would all welcome for our own.”