South Gloucestershire Council is determined to improve services for children, following publication of an Ofsted inspection report.
The report follows a four-week inspection last November and December for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers. While adoption services were rated good, it concludes that overall services in South Gloucestershire are inadequate.
Ofsted highlighted a requirement to urgently review all cases currently or recently allocated to managers within the 0 to 25 service*. These reviews have now taken place to ensure that everyone receives a more timely service appropriate to their needs.
Inspectors also say a more consistent approach to identifying, assessing and reducing the risk of child sexual exploitation is needed and we have already started working on ways to strengthen our practices.
The report recognises that the views of young people are listened to through the ‘lively and engaging’ Children in Care Council and that its impact could be increased if the group were to expand. Closer links are being made with local further education colleges to provide suitable courses for care leavers to improve their employment prospects and progress in education and the appointment of two education, employment and training workers is helping to drive this work forward.
Peter Murphy, Director of Children, Adults and Health at the council said: “Naturally we are deeply disappointed with the outcome but we are determined to improve services for children and young people. What I can assure you of is that we are already taking steps to bring about rapid improvement, which is acknowledged by Ofsted in the report. We have set up an improvement board specifically looking at our 0 to 25 disability service to ensure the needs of our most vulnerable children and young people are being met. This remains a top priority for the council and a robust improvement plan is being developed to address all the recommendations in the report.
“We are reviewing how we identify children who may be at risk of sexual exploitation and strengthening the child protection arrangements we have in place within the council and together with partner organisations.
“And we are also looking at how care plans for looked after children should adapt to better meet a child’s changing needs or circumstances. The report does acknowledge that looked after children at key stage 4 make successful transitions to further education or training.
“We are also reviewing social work practice across the service and reviewing the training needs of support staff, social workers and managers to ensure they are fully equipped with the right skills to help children to the best of their ability.
“As well as adoption performance being rated good, Ofsted recognises that the work of the turnaround board, set up in 2014, has driven a number of positive and much-needed changes in children’s services. However we accept these have not been quick enough for some families.”
Cllr Jon Hunt, Chair of Children, Adults and Health Committee, added: “I share the disappointment in the outcome and I feel it is only right to apologise to those children and their families who have not received help and support quickly enough. The needs of children, especially vulnerable children and their families must always come first.
“I wholeheartedly take on board the recommendations made by the inspectors who recognise that work is already underway on many areas for development. I am very clear that our aspiration is to see services for children and young people move to a good rating at the earliest opportunity.
“To bring about the necessary improvements, the council must act swiftly and decisively but I have every confidence that we have the right people in place to drive the changes forward.”
Inspectors also highlighted a number of strengths, including:
● Social workers know children well. Children’s views are heard and those who are in need receive appropriate support
● Adoption performance is rated as good. Children who cannot live with their birth families are routinely considered for adoption and are found caring homes quickly
● Children whose needs are clear are referred to the access and response team and social workers and managers swiftly refer them to the right service
● Staff feel well supported and cared for by visible and approachable managers. Practitioners are proud to work for the council and consistently say that services are improving.
The next steps for the council are to implement all of the recommendations in the report against an improvement plan which is being developed.