A council has become only the fifth to be currently rated outstanding in all categories by Ofsted, after inspectors found it was delivering “exceptional” practice that made children feel “loved”, under visionary leadership.
North Lincolnshire has joined Hampshire, Kensington and Chelsea, North Yorkshire and Westminster in being awarded the top grade overall, as well as for leadership, provision for children in care and care leavers and services for children in need of help and protection, following a full inspection last month. At its previous inspection, in 2017, it was rated ‘outstanding’ in all categories bar children in need of help and protection, for which it was ‘good’.
Inspectors praised the council’s “visionary” corporate leadership team, for their “unwavering ambition for children and families”, and the authority’s “deeply committed” children’s services managers for their deep understanding of the community and willingness to subject themselves to scrutiny.
Ofsted identified no areas for improvement, saying there was an “extremely small number of areas of variability” in what was otherwise “exceptional practice”.
‘Social work flourishing’
Director of children’s services Ann-Marie Matson came in for particular praise as an “inspiring role model, putting children and her workforce first”, which had helped foster “a compassionate and caring culture”, in which social work has “flourished”.
A relational strengths-based approach enabled children in need of help and protection to build meaningful relationships with their social worker, even when intervention was time-limited, the inspection report said. Parents, meanwhile, reported that social workers were reliable, helpful, went above and beyond and ensured that “they did not feel judged”.
Practitioners worked sensitively to understand family relationships and the child’s world, carried out comprehensive assessments that informed detailed plans and undertook “creative” direct work, including in supporting disabled children’s transitions to adulthood.
Inspectors said child protection practice helped improve children’s situations, resulting in intervention being stepped down, on the back of strong multi-agency planning that created clear expectations of families.
A court and permanence team were “determined advocates” for children in pursuing permanence for them during pre-proceedings, which meant parents were given the opportunity to change but without resulting in unnecessary delay for children.
Children ‘felt loved’
Ofsted found that children in care received an “exceptional service from workers who demonstrate that they care for them”.
“Consequently, children told inspectors that they felt loved and that they felt listened to,” said the report.
This was manifest in assessments and plans informed directly by what children said and a “relentless” pursuit of permanence, which meant most were found long-term placements quickly, generally in “excellent-quality foster homes”.
Practitioners also were “highly attuned to children’s stories and traumatic experiences”, helping them “create culturally sensitive, detailed life journey work”.
Care leavers, meanwhile, benefited from “an extensive array of support for their practical, physical and emotional health and financial needs”, arranged by “sensitive and professionally curious” personal advisers.
Staff ‘passion’ hailed
The high quality of practice was underpinned by strong quality assurance, which gave leaders “a robust and clear line of sight to practice, manageable workloads, low turnover and a system of supervision that practitioners said was “a space to think and test out ideas”.
In response, Matson said: “To be rated as outstanding, across all four judgments, and with no identified areas for improvement, is absolute testament to the passion and love [staff] have for children and families and for ensuring that quality practice contributes to improving their lives and experiences.
“We remain ambitious for our children, young people and families. As an organisation, which is committed to listening, learning, reviewing and adapting, we will continue to develop and innovate so that they continue to flourish in their lives.”