Inspectors have hailed the impact of the family safeguarding model in helping a council move from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’, in a report this week.
Ofsted credited the approach for enhancing the quality of practice and supervision, helping parents gain insight into the impact of negative behaviours on their children and enabling families to stay together.
Bracknell Forest implemented the model – pioneered in Hertfordshire – in 2017, with government funding, and a 2020 evaluation found the numbers of child protection plans and looked-after children had subsequently fallen in the Berkshire authority.
The model involves placing domestic abuse, substance use and mental health practitioners in multi-disciplinary teams with children’s social workers, to enable them to work with parents in tackling the root causes of their children’s needs and risks, including through the use of motivational interviewing. The workers also share regular group supervision sessions.
‘Very beneficial direct work by passionate practitioners’
Ofsted highlighted the impact of both specialist adults’ staff and group supervision in the model’s success in Bracknell Forest.
“Meaningful and very beneficial direct work completed by the passionate specialist workers, such as
domestic abuse workers, is having a very positive impact on children and their families,” said the report. “This approach enables children and adults to gain an insight into their challenges and establish ways which help them to manage anxiety and behaviours in a positive way.”
The report added: “This support has been very impactful in enabling more children to return to the care of their parents and remain in their care.”
Inspectors praised the “effective, collaborative” way children’s social workers and adults’ specialists worked together to tackle domestic abuse, parental substance use and neglect.
Group supervision ‘providing clarity on what makes a difference’
This was enhanced by group supervision, which provided “real clarity and understanding about need, risk intervention and what makes a difference to children”, as well as reflection and challenge.
The report also praised leaders’ investment in the model, saying refresher training to strengthen its implementation had “had a significant impact on practice and the effective interventions provided to improve children’s family experiences”.
The impact of the family safeguarding model helped Bracknell Forest earn an outstanding grade for both its work with children in need of help and protection and for leadership – in both cases, an improvement on the good rating it achieved in 2017.
Ofsted also found leaders and managers were “working tirelessly to develop more placement options for children and young people” and had done much to tackle recruitment and retention problems, resulting in improved workforce stability.
While this had led to some social workers carrying higher caseloads than the authority would have liked, leaders had implemented a plan to address this.
The authority, however, slipped back, from outstanding to good, in relation to services for children in care and care leavers.
Creative practice with children in care
Inspectors were generally positive about provision for children in care, who they said generally benefited from permanent homes, found in timely manner.
Social workers saw children as much as they needed, carrying out life story work proactively to help promote their understanding of their identities, and working creatively to communicate with them and ensure their voices were heard.
Sexual and criminal exploitation, and other risks, were well-managed through effective risk assessment, while those placed out of area were well-supported by social workers, who saw them regularly.
Foster carers praised the support they received, with supervising social workers “achieving a good balance between professional vigilance and challenge and providing support”.
Personal assistant caseloads ‘higher than optimal’
The only deficits in practice identified by Ofsted were in relation to care leavers.
Personal assistants were ambitious for young people and supported them well to achieve their aspirations through “tenacious and skilled support”, which young people spoke highly of.
However, their caseloads were “higher than optimal”, sometimes affecting their ability to provide as much support as they would like.
Not enough care leavers were in education, employment and training, with relatively few progressing to higher education, and their influence on service design was “in its infancy”, with the council needing to do much more to enable their participation.
Grainne Siggins, executive director, people, at Bracknell Forest, said: “I am immensely proud that Bracknell Forest’s children’s services has been rated as outstanding. This is testament to the hard work, dedication and passion in providing the best possible service to improve the lives of children, young people and their families in the borough.
“We will continue to focus on improving our services to ensure that we can provide outstanding services to all of our children and young people.”