Council facing removal of services improving care leaver provision, finds Ofsted

Inspectors praise "committed and caring" social workers and personal advisers for improving quality of practice under "capable" managers, as Bradford prepares to cede services to trust

Image of Bradford skyline (image: John Farman via Wikimedia Commons)
Bradford skyline (image: John Farman via Wikimedia Commons)

A council whose children’s services will be transferred to an independent trust next year has improved its provision for care leavers, Ofsted has found.

In its latest monitoring visit to Bradford council, the inspectorate found that a bigger and more stable workforce of “committed and caring” social workers and personal advisers (PAs) were delivering more consistent practice under the oversight and leadership of “capable” senior managers.

At its 2018 inspection, in which it graded Bradford as inadequate overall though requires improvement for children in care and care leavers, Ofsted found that support for care leavers was inconsistent. Some councils lacked access to key documents to support them in adulthood, such as passports, pathway plans were not user-friendly and the voice of the young person was “minimal” in case records.

However, at the monitoring visit in July, inspectors found that the “voice of the young person is significantly stronger, and this is ensuring young people’s views and goals are incorporated into planning”.

Their views were central to pathway plans – which were now “sensitively written in easily understandable language” – and this meant that interventions were based on young people’s expressed wishes, goals and aspirations.

Practitioners considered young people’s faith and cultural needs well, and provision for young asylum seekers had improved through an approach that saw them as children first and migrants second. Most care leavers had access to the documents they needed to move into adulthood.

Stable workforce

While care leavers had experienced churn in the social workers or PAs supporting them – forcing them to retell their story – most were now benefiting from a stable workforce of practitioners who visited them regularly and ensured they felt supported and cared for.

This was enabled by manageable caseloads for social workers in leaving care teams. Though PAs’ caseloads were higher and their ability to spend time with individual care leavers was restricted by their responsibilities in organising group work, the council was recruiting more staff to cut vacancies and reduce workloads.

Social workers and PAs had benefited from a “thorough learning and development programme” that was helping to embed new practice standards and make the quality of practice consistent, inspectors found, while they also said management oversight had become more robust.

A key area for improvement was the lack of access to adult social care for young people with complex needs, such as learning disabilities, due to being deemed ineligible, and long waits and delays for care leavers in receiving mental health support.

“As a result, not all care leavers have their complex needs assessed appropriately, or have the right specialist intervention in place to keep them well as they enter adulthood,” said Ofsted.

Bradford DCS: ‘we cannot be complacent’

Inspectors also found supervision records were of variable quality, with some sessions overly focused on compliance overly focused on compliance as opposed to reflection.

Following the report’s publication last week, Marium Haque, strategic director of children’s services, said: “This is a really positive outcome. We have been working extremely hard to drive improvements in the services we deliver to children. We’re pleased that Ofsted have seen that we have committed and capable managers in place and that we have excellent staff who are able to deliver improved services for our district’s young care leavers.

“While this report is very encouraging, we cannot be complacent. We know there is more to do and we know we need to see improvement across all our services. But the outcome of this visit is recognition for the hard work and commitment of staff who deliver these services.”

The report comes with the council having agreed with the Department for Education to transfer its children’s services to an independent trust next year, in the light of longstanding performance issues that a DfE adviser found it lacked the capacity and capability to rectify.

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