Inspectors have praised a council’s focus on children’s participation in shaping services, as they graded it ‘good’ for the first time in a decade.
After visiting Coventry council earlier in the summer, Ofsted said children’s “strong influence” within the local authority was a “real strength” thanks to leaders’ commitment, and was helping to drive positive culture change.
“Young people are involved at all levels of the service, as individuals influencing their own plans to groups highlighting the need to strengthen or develop areas of service,” the inspectors’ report said.
Children and young people were involved in training social workers and councillors, and in helping to commission mental health support for care leavers, it added.
“All of this ensures that children’s services are responsive to children and young people’s needs,” Ofsted said.
‘Deep understanding of children’s views’
Improving how the needs of children were being recognised and met in the borough was one of the key recommendations made when Ofsted last inspected Coventry’s children’s services in 2017, when they were found to require improvement.
Since then, the inspectorate said, there had been both strong political support and “significant” investment that had delivered better early help services and an expanded family group conferencing offer, as well as new specialist teams.
Social workers’ visits to children were described as “purposeful” and their reports “sensitively written”, with creative direct work helping them understand children’s circumstances and communicate concerns to parents.
More recent Ofsted reports
“The use of life-story work by social workers in help and protection services is a strength,” Ofsted said. “It gives workers a deep understanding of children’s views and the important relationships they have in the family [which] enables social workers to be more effective in their intervention.”
The quality of multi-agency working, underpinned by “constructive” strategic partnerships, was also highlighted by inspectors, for example around local measures to protect children at risk of exploitation.
“Particularly strong links between children’s services and the police lead to effective mapping and disruption work,” inspectors said. “Children and young people who are at risk of exploitation receive thorough and timely assessments, which lead to detailed plans where a range of resources are used to keep them safer.”
‘Engaged social work group’
Improvements in the city had been driven by “drive and determination” from a stable senior leadership team, who had a solid understanding of social work practice, Ofsted found.
“A comprehensive quality assurance framework has been developed which involves a range of different audit tools across children’s services,” inspectors said. “The focus of the framework on learning and the involvement of social workers has strengthened the approach [which] has meant the local authority has a much more accurate picture of children’s services.
“There is also an engaged social work group that understands areas of strength and weakness and is positive about change,” the report added, noting that social workers were positive about working in Coventry.
Despite the mostly upbeat assessment, inspectors found a number of areas in which improvements could be made, in particular around the consistency of social work supervision.
Ofsted also warned that older children who were homeless too often received a patchy service, that private fostering assessments needed to improve and that some children in care experienced too many changes in social worker.
‘Not the end of our journey’
Responding to the inspection report, John Gregg, Coventry’s director of children’s services, said the improved rating had “only been made possible with the support of our amazing young people, their families and their carers and through our work with partners”.
“We have worked to improve outcomes for the children and young people of the city and will continue to do so,” he added, praising the “enthusiasm and dedication” of staff and partners. “We have a lot to be proud of, but we will study the report and work on those areas that can be improved and continue our work to give the best service possible to the children and young people of Coventry and their families.”
Pat Seaman, the council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said she was “delighted” with the report.
“Everyone should be proud of the achievements and the progress made, but this is not the end of our journey,” she said. “The children and families in Coventry deserve the very best and we will continue to strive to improve to achieve ‘outstanding’ next time.”