The latest Ofsted visit feedback letter to South Gloucestershire Council makes clear that significant work is required to bring the services we deliver to support the most vulnerable children in the district up to the standard we want and they need.
While the report acknowledges the significant efforts which have gone into addressing the issues previously highlighted, it is clear that much more needs to be done. Ofsted recognise the continuing pressure to recruit and retain qualified social workers, both locally and nationwide, and note the commitment we have made in the past months to invest £10 million over the next four years to address this, however they also say that the pace of change is not quick enough and that there are occasions where we do not act quickly enough to assess risks to young people.
Throughout the pandemic, children’s services staff have continued to show commitment and dedication to support young people and their families. The visit by Ofsted, which took place over two days in November, focussed on our ‘front door’ services, through which the cases of young people are referred and assessed to identify the help they might need.
Ofsted found that we are still not always responding as quickly as we should in assessing new cases. Improvements to our services begun after the last inspection have not all been sustained and are not being implemented fast enough. The challenges of staff turnover and workforce shortages continue to make service changes and improvements more difficult. Ofsted have recognised we have made more recent changes, however they are too recent to be able to assess their impact on services.
Ofsted have been clear about the work we now need to do in order to improve our service and an action plan has been developed, which will be subject to ongoing monitoring and scrutiny by council leadership, including Cabinet and the Scrutiny Commission. This will address:
• The timeliness and quality of visits to children, assessments of risks and needs and the effectiveness of interventions
• The understanding and application of thresholds across the service
• The quality and accuracy of children’s records to ensure that decisions are based on full and accurate information
• The quality and effectiveness of management oversight and supervision to ensure that decisions are timely and support the progress of children’s plans
• The size of social worker caseloads
• The timeliness, quality and effectiveness of quality assurance.
Building on work already underway, a key focus of our efforts will be investment in recruitment and retention of our children’s services workforce, which will include improved training and support to identify and share best practice from within the council and from other councils where we can learn from this.
Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Cllr Samuel Bromiley, said: “There is no other way to read this report than to accept it shows we are not doing well enough to support those children, young people and their families who need us the most. It does not blame the dedicated staff who do an incredibly difficult job with real commitment and empathy, but it is clear that we must take collective responsibility for the fact that we have to improve our services significantly and swiftly.
“We are absolutely committed to improving our services, which is why, prior to the Ofsted visit, we had announced a four-year, £10 million investment into our service and workforce to enable us to meet the challenges we know we face. The challenge ahead of us is much more than financial, however. We will continue to take steps to change the way we work to ensure that children and families who are at risk can be seen and supported quickly and receive the services they need to keep them safe and well. We are also continuing to rapidly review our recruitment procedures to ensure we have sufficient capacity to deliver the improvements we need to make.
“We expect and welcome the scrutiny that comes from Ofsted and we set ourselves the highest standards. We will achieve them because we owe nothing less to the young people of South Gloucestershire.”
The inspection took place on November 9 and 10. This was a focussed visit on the ‘front door’ services, comprising the Assessment and Referral services and does not lead to a ‘grading’. The report from the visit is published by Ofsted here: https://files.ofsted.gov.uk/v1/file/50173992
South Gloucestershire’s Children’s Services are currently rated as Requires Improvement (https://files.api.ofsted.gov.uk/v1/file/50074950). This will not be able to change until Ofsted undertake their next Full Inspection, which will take place at a time to be determined by Ofsted.