South Gloucestershire Council children’s services continue to improve

South Gloucestershire Council’s services for children are continuing to improve and the authority has now been taken out of intervention, following publication of the latest Ofsted inspection report.

Ofsted’s judgment is that our service now ‘requires improvement to be good’, which although acknowledging that we still have more to do, is a major step in the right direction and testament to the dedicated work of our social care staff.

The report follows a two week inspection (in March 2019) of the council’s services for children. Including those in need of help and protection, looked after children and care leavers.

While Ofsted acknowledged that there was still further work to do in their latest report, they also highlighted a number of significant improvements to the quality of care provided for children in need of support in South Gloucestershire.

We are particularly pleased that the inspectors recognised that we give a strong voice to children and young people in the way we run and deliver our services and in the way that we work and engage directly with them; that staff morale is good and improving; that we have made strides in the support offered to foster families; and that there have been strong improvements in the 0-25 disability service.

Ofsted inspectors say:

Emerging strengths are evident in the quality of direct work with children and a greater focus on achieving early permanence for children. A culture of learning and self-reflection is being embedded. Senior leaders have significantly strengthened quality assurance arrangements. Effective use has been made of improvement partners, and key messages and findings from audit activity and performance information have enabled senior leaders to target areas for development. 

A newly introduced electronic recording system is beginning to contribute to improvements in the quality and timeliness of case recording. Social workers ensure that they see children regularly and within timescales that are appropriate to children’s needs. Corporate parenting is well embedded, and leaders have made progress in developing the quality and skill of social workers as well as reducing staff turnover. Caseloads have reduced and are now manageable. Social workers report feeling well supported by their managers in South Gloucestershire.

They also highlighted key priorities for further improvement work, including development of our work with care leavers; ensuring support for children in need is consistently at the highest level; and offering more assistance to the growing numbers of children educated at home.

Inspectors again noted that:

Children receive a swift response when there are clearly presented safeguarding concerns. Appropriate decisions are made, and subsequent actions are mostly timely. Historical information from all agencies is carefully considered to inform decision-making. Most referrals, including domestic abuse notifications, are well managed. Managers effectively oversee and record their decisions on children’s records. Partnership working is now embedded and provides good opportunities for joint working. 

Children in the 0–25 disability service receive a significantly improved service compared with that seen at the time of the previous inspection in 2016. Social workers are skilled and make sustained efforts to gather the views of children to ensure that their views are understood and listened to, including those children who have communication difficulties.

The report noted that corporate parenting in South Gloucestershire is a strength. Ofsted says that the independent provider commissioned to provide advocacy for children in care provides good support to children and young people. There are established groups for children in care and care leavers: Teen Care Council (TCC) and Experienced Panel in Care (EPIC). There is a robust corporate parenting strategy, and children in care and care leavers have been able to contribute to changes in policy and practice, including successfully lobbying the council to agree that care leavers should not pay council tax. Children’s achievements are celebrated, and the council holds a Christmas day event for any care leavers who are alone on that day. This event is organised and funded by council staff and attended by senior managers, the leader of the council and lead member for children and young people.

Councillor Jon Hunt, Cabinet Member responsible for Children and Young People, said: “I am really pleased that Ofsted has recognised the work we have done to improve our services. I’m pleased for the young people and their families that we support most of all, but also for the staff who have worked tremendously hard to make the improvements reflected in this report.

“We are continuing to move in the right direction, but we do recognise there is still further to go in order to bring all social work practice to the same consistently high standards that the children we support deserve.

“Ofsted have acknowledged that significant improvements are evident and we will now focus on doing the right thing, the first time, to achieve consistency across the board. We need to ensure that consistently high standards are what all the children we support experience.

“We have made this progress thanks to a fantastic amount of work from our dedicated staff and I want to pay tribute to their efforts. They will have our full support as we deliver more of the same and I look forward to continuing on our improvement journey.”

Chris Sivers, Director for Children, Adults and Health at South Gloucestershire Council, said: “We are really pleased to now be out of intervention, however we recognise that there is still work to do to bring us to where we want to be.

“This is an important step in our improvement journey, which I’m pleased we’ve brought about in such a short period of time. I’m particularly pleased with the recognition that the direct work with children is strong, and that we listen to the voice of children and young people. Crucially, Ofsted have identified that we understand our strengths, but also know where we need to focus our efforts to deliver further improvements.

“Whilst Ofsted are comfortable that they no longer need to visit us so regularly to monitor progress, we have valued the robust scrutiny this has provided and will maintain the same high levels of quality assurance to ensure we build on the rapid progress we’ve already made.”

To view the report visit www.southglos.gov.uk/ofsted

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