The findings of the recent inspection by Ofsted of Children’s Social Care Services, including education and inclusion for children in care in Plymouth have been published today (Monday 7 January).
Inspectors have found that since the Single Inspection Framework (SIF) Inspection in 2014 and the Focused Visit in May last year, senior leaders have taken clear action to improve the quality of social work practice and the vast majority of children, young people and families in Plymouth get the right help at the right time.
The report found there has been significant progress in establishing an environment in which good social work can flourish by significantly reducing social workers’ workloads, increasing management capacity and providing a wide range of learning and development opportunities.
Despite highlighting a number of strengths and areas of improvement the judgement for Plymouth remains ‘Requires improvement to be good’.
The city’s performance was scrutinised over an intensive two week period last November which involved collecting thousands of pages of files, facts and figures and speaking with staff, managers, children, parents and carers.
The inspectors considered the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, and the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers.
Ofsted found a range of strengths and good practise in Plymouth’s services for vulnerable children, including:
- A wide range of early help and targeted services are available to strengthen parenting capacity and build resilience in families.
- Social workers know their children well, see them regularly and build effective relationships with both children and families to support effective interventions and positive outcomes.
- Senior leaders are outward looking and have been successful in attracting innovative projects to continue to develop and improve service delivery and outcomes for children
- Children in care are visited regularly and their voices and experiences are captured effectively in order to inform planning.
- Virtual school leaders provide strong strategic leadership and are effective in ensuring that children in care have every opportunity to make good progress and reach their potential. As a result, they have overseen a marked improvement in the quality of support to children in care and the schools or colleges they attend
- When adoption is the plan for children, they receive an effective and timely service and the individual needs of brothers and sisters are carefully considered
- As part of child protection enquiries, children are routinely seen and spoken to by social workers, who carefully consider the risks and needs of individual children and correctly apply thresholds…Assessments are comprehensive and include good analysis; children’s experiences are clearly captured, and assessments clearly identify next steps to improve children’s experiences
- Inspectors saw numerous examples of purposeful and creative direct work, as well as the use of a variety of tools and techniques to sensitively explore the feelings of children and young people.
Alison Botham Director of Children’s Services said: “We are obviously disappointed with the judgement of this Ofsted inspection as since their visit in 2014 we have undertaken a huge amount of work to address the issues that were raised but we acknowledge there is still some work to be done around the issues identified and we are already implementing plans to address those areas.
“I am really pleased to see that the inspectors have recognised and highlighted a number of areas of good work right across the services we provide for some of Plymouth’s most vulnerable children and their families. These include our success in attracting and retaining a suitably qualified and supported work force with reduced caseloads, enabling social workers to develop meaningful relationships with children. Practioners have time and capacity to deliver purposeful and well targeted interventions. Most importantly for me the inspectors recognise that this has resulted in children’s experience and circumstances improving and positive outcomes for them being achieved.”
The inspectors noted that the Council is already tackling the areas that need to improve:
- quality of strategy discussions, including records of decision-making and action plans
- Sufficiency of local placements to meet the needs of older children
- quality of recording of supervision and management oversight
- quality of services to care leavers, including educational, employment and training opportunities
- quality of and learning from auditing of casework.
Senior leaders have a good understanding of strengths and areas for improvement and since the initial feedback was received from Ofsted, existing plans have been reviewed to deliver the rapid improvements and detailed action plans are also being put into place.
Councillor Sue McDonald, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People said: “Keeping our children safe is the most important job we have as a Council and while it’s disappointing we have been judged as Requires Improvement to be Good the report itself highlights a lot of good work in Plymouth and I’m very proud of our skilled and committed work force who work tirelessly in doing the vital job of keeping Plymouth’s children safe.
“We already have plans in place to address the issues that have been raised in the report, which include increasing the numbers of suitable placements for older children and I am confident that we are well placed to be providing good services across the board in the near future.
“It’s also important we note that during this time of austerity, there has been a significant rise in the number of children in our care and providing the placements needed for these children is very costly and has a big impact on the Council’s already restricted budget. This is why we have already written to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond MP, to ask to be considered as one of the 20 children’s social care improvement pilots. The high level of need that we have experienced this year could make Plymouth a valuable pilot authority, providing evidence to facilitate improvements.”
The full report can be read here.