Ofsted hails ‘inadequate’ council’s progress in latest visit

    DfE-appointed commissioner joins in praise for Hull, after inspectors find “skilled” leaving care workers delivering much-improved support on back of significant investment

    Skyline view of Hull Guildhall (credit: Paul Lakin / Wikimedia Commons)
    Hull (credit: Paul Lakin / Wikimedia Commons)

    By Rob Preston and Mithran Samuel

    Inspectors have praised Hull council’s care leaver service in their fifth monitoring visit to the authority since an inadequate rating in 2019.

    Ofsted found that “skilled” staff were “providing greatly improved support to care leavers”, and felt “extremely well supported” by managers, on the back of significant investment from a “stable and determined leadership team”.

    Inspectors said staff knew young people well, were persistent in keeping in touch with them and had improved the quality of pathway plans, which addressed care leavers’ needs well and were well informed by their views.

    Most care leavers were in suitable accommodation, with “proactive and agile support” to prevent tenancies breaking down, and young people also benefited from an effective service to meet their emotional needs. Inspectors also praised support for asylum-seeking young people.

    Committed staff ‘have worked relentlessly’

    The report marks a third consecutive positive monitoring visit for Hull over the past year.

    Shane McMurray, portfolio holder for children’s services, said it had been a “key priority” to improve services for care leavers.

    “We are now working with more care leavers than ever, and our ambition is to see every one supported into a good home, a good job and have firm foundations to help them achieve their ambitions for the future,” he added.

    “We have committed staff who work with our care experienced young people and our young people trust their workers. Our journey of substantially improving our services is all down to their hard work, perseverance and commitment.”

    Paul Moffat, the Department for Education-appointed commissioner overseeing Hull’s improvements, said he was “delighted to see inspectors recognise the progress made in Hull children’s  services”. “Staff and leaders have worked relentlessly throughout the pandemic to ensure care leavers have had the support they deserve,” he added.

    Inconsistent practice amid improvements at struggling authority

    Meanwhile, Ofsted found some improvements in Trafford council’s services for children in care in a third monitoring visit to the council since judging its services to be inadequate in June 2019 – but said practice was inconsistent.

    Inspectors said social workers visited children in care regularly, many assessments involved careful analysis that identified potential risks and needs, and care plans were usually informed by children’s wishes and feelings.

    But Ofsted found that some visits lacked purpose, and some assessments and plans were not updated when children’s circumstances changed, meaning decisions were not based on children’s current needs.

    It also said some children faced delays in progressing their care plans, which were not always effectively challenged by independent reviewing officers, or by managers during supervision.

    Inspectors also found that some social workers had felt unsettled by a service restructure last year, and while workforce stability was improving, turnover was both increasing pressures on remaining staff and making it difficult for children to build a rapport with practitioners.

    However, while finding the pace of improvement had been slow, inspectors said there was “a strong corporate and political commitment to improving services for children in Trafford”.

    Council no longer at risk of service removal

    Ofsted also reported this week on progress for children in care services at West Sussex, weeks after the DfE scrapped plans to remove services from the ‘inadequate’ authority on the back of a positive report from commissioner John Coughlan.

    Inspectors found social work practice and the experiences of children had “significantly improved” since the 2019 inspection that landed the south coast authority with its inadequate rating. It also found leaders had an accurate view of practice in the county and were “resolute” in pursuing improvements for children.

    Also, strengthened practice, increased awareness and management oversight of permanence planning had significantly enabled greater security and stability for many children

    However, inspectors also found some children – though a reducing number – continued to experience too many changes of social worker, affecting the quality of their relationships with practitioners and the progression of their plans.

    A recent service redesign and the implementation of a new practice model had resulted in changes of social worker for some children and a small number having to wait for an assessment when first referred. However, leaders felt this was a short-term issue and were focused on embedding the practice model.

    There was also a persistent problem of children living with family and friends in circumstances that fell below the standards expected by fostering regulations, with the number of these cases not falling since November 2021 despite the council’s efforts.

    ‘Social workers unclear on information they need to provide’

    Finally, Ofsted found services for children in care in Southend still needed to improve, in a focused visit three years after rating the council’s services as requiring improvement to be good.

    Inspectors said leaders had increased staff numbers in the placement team, which had made work to assess prospective placements more thorough and led to better-quality matching decisions.

    But Ofsted said “progress for some children is hindered because of disruption and changes to where they live or changes of social worker”.

    “Some children’s social workers do not have a clear enough understanding of the information that they need to provide to enable the authority to find the right care for them,” it added.

    Leaders had created a dedicated looked-after children team after recognising that some practitioners lacked the experience to create good plans for children who were unable to live within extended families. This was resulting in more focused and effective support for practitioners.

    While most children lived in homes that met their needs, “too many” lived a long way from the town, negatively affecting the support available to them, Ofsted found.

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