“Excellent” and “culturally sensitive” direct work by social workers has helped their council improve to ‘good’ in its latest Ofsted inspection.
The inspectorate also found that strong staff retention at Leicester council provided a “bedrock of stability” that promoted excellent relationships between children and practitioners.
‘Excellent direct work’
Inspectors praised the quality of direct work with both children in need of help and protection and those in care.
With children in care, social workers completed creative and age-appropriate work that ensured children’s views were central to decision-making. With those in need, practice was culturally sensitive – in the context of Leicester’s very diverse population – and ensured further support and safety plans were well-informed by children’s views.
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Ofsted also found that children came into care at the right time after careful consideration, with social workers being “tenacious” in supporting children to live with extended families where possible. For those in foster care, careful matching ensured children were able to develop positive relationships with carers and often lived with them into adulthood.
‘Bedrock of stability’
Ofsted said that staff retention was one of Leicester’s “significant strengths” providing a “bedrock of stability” that promoted excellent relationships between social workers and the children they supported.
Social workers were well-supported by their managers – with most receiving “good-quality, in-depth supervision” – while manageable caseloads enabled them to work purposefully with families.
Practitioners also highlighted to inspectors the commendations they received from management following high-quality work, reflecting a culture of high challenge and support.
Ofsted said senior managers had worked tenaciously to steadily improve services and were “highly aspirational” for vulnerable children in Leicester.
Inspectors also commended the council’s use of performance data, which it said showed that the local authority “knows itself well”.
More consistency required
Ofsted said the authority’s quality of social work practice, management decision-making and recording was not as high in a small number of cases, and that Leicester needed to become more consistent in case recording, management oversight and auditing to further improve.
It said the council needed to co-ordinate its private fostering support better, with some children not receiving timely visits to review their circumstances or sufficient consideration when these changed.
Leicester’s deputy city mayor for social care and anti-poverty, Sarah Russell, said she was “immensely proud” of Ofsted’s report and praised the “tremendous amount of hard work” by staff.
“We’ve focused on improvements that we will be able to maintain, long-term, as we constantly strive to advance the service we offer to some of our most vulnerable citizens,” she said.
“This has paid off, as inspectors have found that despite all the challenges of a global pandemic, our services are robust.
“We know there is more work still to do, but I’m delighted that the dedication of our staff has been recognised with this result. It is children and families who will benefit from it.”
Workforce instability hampers progress
Ofsted also paid visits to four other local authorities recently, two of which it had most recently rated as inadequate and the other two as requires improvement.
The inspectorate reported some early signs of improvement in Trafford council’s quality of assessments and child protection planning for children.
But it said the authority, which it rated as inadequate in 2019, had been hampered in its attempts to improve by the instability of its workforce and weaknesses in management oversight of frontline practice.
“Despite this, the work reviewed during this visit showed that most children’s situations were improving as a result of the intervention taking place,” said the report, following a monitoring visit in September.
Trafford appointed Jill McGregor as its corporate director of children’s services in February 2020 and Ofsted praised her introduction of an effective performance management framework to ensure leaders had an accurate understanding of the quality of social work practice.
The inspectorate said the council now had stronger governance of children’s services, of which it had undertaken a full restructure.
High number of less-experienced social workers
Ofsted praised Blackpool, which it rated as inadequate in 2019, for reducing the high numbers of children in its care.
The inspectorate also commended the council’s new service to support children on the edge of care and said social workers supported its model of practice.
It said the council, which it visited in September, had introduced permanence panels to oversee children’s progress, which had led to more effective scrutiny of permanence planning.
But Ofsted said the council’s quality of early permanence planning was inconsistent, which led to a delay in permanence planning for some children.
“This is affected by workforce challenges, including high levels of less-experienced social workers in frontline teams,” said Ofsted.
“Senior leaders are acutely aware of this variability in practice and the new director of children’s services [Victoria Gent] is appropriately focused on improving workforce retention and consistency in practice.”
Manageable caseloads support relationships
Ofsted also praised Norfolk, which it last rated as ‘requires improvement’ in 2018, for reducing the number of children in its care steadily over recent years.
After a focused visit in October, it commended senior leaders for recognising the importance for children of stable placements and improving support to children and carers, including through changing team structures..
The inspectorate said social workers working with children in care had manageable caseloads, which enabled them to build relationships with children, family members and professionals.
But Ofsted said there was greater staff turnover in the council’s family assessment and safeguarding teams, which had contributed to delays in some children getting permanent places.
It said the council needed to improve its matching and placement planning information as well as the timeliness, rigour and recording of assessments of family and friend foster carers.
Practice culture praised
Meanwhile, Ofsted commended senior leaders at Kirklees, rated ‘requires improvement’ in 2019, for creating “a culture where strong social work practice improves outcomes for children in care who are in need of permanence”.
It said many children benefited from improved placement stability due to the council developing a “wide range of effective services” since the last inspection.
“Skilled and committed social workers provide sensitive, child-centred practice to children and their carers,” it said following a visit to the council in October.
It said professional development for staff was strongly encouraged and supported but said supervision of some social workers with their direct line managers was not frequent enough.