The Sub-Committee was presented with an overview of the findings from the Ofsted Focused Visit in May 2021 and an outline of next steps.
It was explained that the inspection visit was undertaken remotely in line with Ofsted’s phased approach to restarting inspection activity, the Local Authority was given notice of the visit ten working days in advance.
The report outlined that the visit considered the nine key decision making points throughout a child’s social care journey from the front door through to legal proceedings and leaving care. The visit also considered how the service have safeguarded vulnerable children during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a particular focus on how education was prioritised and promoted. It was noted that Ofsted acknowledged the significant impact that Covid-19 has had on the borough and staff, noting the high infection and death rate and how services have had to adapt to respond.
The findings noted that strong, timely corporate and political support for children’s services has enabled leaders to mitigate some of the impact of the pandemic. The report stated that Inspectors found that strengthened partnership arrangements are enabling a proactive and collaborative effort to support the most vulnerable families at a time of increased demand.
Members were informed that there were no priority actions identified during the visit which would have indicated concerns requiring an immediate response.
There was progress noted by Ofsted against the recommendations from the last inspection in 2018. These included the improved effectiveness of the quality assurance framework, strengthened partner agency attendance at strategy meetings and the effective and timely decision making within the MASH. The letter also highlights the proactive approach by the social workers in the children with disabilities service and the ‘dedicated and knowledgeable’ leaving care service.
The Sub-Committee was informed that in relation to schools, it was highlighted that leaders have built positive relationships with schools and have collaborated well to manage the increase in applications for elective home education. It was noted that children in care routinely continue to attend the same school, minimising the disruption in their lives. It was stated that going forward, the service need to ensure that there are consistent and effective feedback mechanisms to schools following the receipt of referrals and interventions ending. Members were informed that work to develop this is already underway.
It was noted that Inspectors recognised that social care leaders have an accurate understanding of children’s services and have maintained a focus on improving services to better safeguard children and to improve their outcomes. Leaders know that there is more to do to ensure consistency in the quality of assessments, plans and supervision and how these are recorded.
The Sub-Committee was informed that the letter from Ofsted provided the following three areas of improvement for the service to build on going forward. These are the quality of analysis within assessments, rationales for decisions to step-down to early help services and the quality of supervision. Officers response to the recommendations and findings from the visit forms part of the ongoing improvement activity. This is managed operationally by the Children’s Services Improvement Board with oversight provided quarterly at the multi-agency Executive Board of which the Chief Executive, Lead Member and Council Leader are members.
In response to Ofsted, the priority of the service over the next three months is recruitment and retention, to ensure a permanent and skilled workforce is in place. It was explained that in order to achieve the necessary consistency in quality of practice needed to progress to the next stage of our improvement journey, stability in the workforce is essential.
The report informed that Ofsted do not provide a grading following a focused visit, however the findings of the visit are taken into account when planning the next inspection visit.
In response to Members, it was explained that officers were working on an improvement plan that would be presented to the sub-committee.
On the Covid Impact Topic Group, a Member asked about the status of the group. It was suggested that the Topic review was an important piece of work that needs to be engaged in.
Members were informed that the service self-evaluation had already identified issues raised by Ofsted. Officers stated that a revised self-evaluation will be presented to the sub-committee in the autumn.
Members noted the content of the report.