New leadership team continues improvements in Children's Social Care

A new senior leadership team is moving Peterborough City Council's Children's Social Care in a positive direction and there are clear signs of continued improvement, according to Ofsted inspectors.

Ofsted arrived unannounced on 13 April 2015 for a four week inspection of the department, it has been announced today (Friday 18 September) that the city council's Children's Social Care department has been rated as requiring improvement.

Inspectors concluded that 'there was no widespread or serious failures that create or leave children being harmed or at risk of harm' and that the new leadership team, appointed in March 2015, had accelerated improvement in the department.

Adoption services were rated as good overall and inspectors commented that the council 'demonstrates success in finding adoptive placements for older children, children with complex needs and groups of brother and sisters'.

The report also concluded that Early Help services were well coordinated and that children and families receive timely support.

Inspectors also said the following:

• Children who are identified as being at risk of child sexual exploitation are appropriately safeguarded. A major joint operation with the police has recently resulted in perpetrators being convicted

• The success of Operation Erle means that there is a high level of awareness across all agencies of child sexual exploitation

• Almost all (97 per cent) of the 99 children and young people who responded to the council’s looked after children survey in December 2014 said they were happy with their social workers

• In most cases, child protection plans are effective in reducing risks for children. As a result, the proportion of children with a second or subsequent child protection plan is, at 12.5 per cent, lower than the average for comparators. In cases seen by inspectors, decisions to end child protection plans were appropriate

• The number of looked after children who have been cautioned for, or convicted of, an offence has fallen. In 2010–11, 7 per cent of looked after children had been cautioned or convicted. The figure for 2014–15 is 1 per cent

• The local authority has been very successful in recruiting in-house foster carers while at the same time maintaining high standards of foster care

• Children who are found to be in need of protection receive a prompt service, with child protection cases processed within four hours of initial contact

• Arrangements for protecting children outside office hours work well

• There was a good response to young people who went missing from home, with return interviews offered and completed, and subsequent work with the whole family to try to prevent recurrence

Inspectors recommended areas for improvement including continuing to increase the stability of the workforce, developing a new neglect strategy and ensuring that robust action plans are used to drive continuous improvement at every level.

At the time of the inspection 29 per cent of social worker posts were vacant and covered by agency social workers at the council.  Senior leaders agreed with inspectors that a high turnover of social workers in the period leading up to the inspection had reduced the quality of some social work practice.

Since the inspection in April, there has been a noticeable improvement to the stability of the workforce and recently the department has successfully recruited a number of new social workers. Once these are all in post over the next 4-6 weeks, the council's social worker vacancy rate will reduce to 19 per cent.  These vacant posts will be covered by agency social workers. 

Furthermore, a new strategy was approved by cabinet earlier this year to address the national shortage of skilled and experienced permanent social workers that affects the city council, alongside many other local authorities in the UK. This included:

• Increasing team manager capacity by establishing two additional posts

• A pilot recruitment of 12 specialist team support workers who will work, under qualified guidance, with children in need with lower priority needs and support the work of social workers with more complex cases
• A new multi-disciplinary service that supports young people with complex needs, located within the Youth Offending Service

• Additional initial screening capacity and greater emphasis on the use of Early Help services to children and young people

• Commissioning a leading charity to address families affected by chronic neglect issues in the city

• Improved use of technology so that social workers and staff can access and update information when making visits

Wendi Ogle-Welbourn, corporate director: people and communities, said: "The inspectors found that we have continued to improve the department and although our overall grade remains the same we are now closer to being rated good.  We understand the very high standards required to be classed as 'good' - with fewer than a quarter of UK authorities being rated above 'requiring improving'.

“Nevertheless, our speed of improvement is still being held back because of a national shortage of skilled and experienced permanent social workers.

"We agree with the inspectors that some children experience too many changes of social worker and this can lead to some inconsistent practice. However, it is encouraging that since the inspection took place in April, we have taken major steps to address this and have already gained approval for a new recruitment strategy from cabinet.

"In the short-term we need to continue to improve our recruitment and retention of staff. In the long–term we are aiming to reduce our reliance on qualified social workers by, for example, employing specialist support staff to work with children with lower priority needs.

"We will always continue to use experienced social workers in complex situations and for children on protection plans but I believe that our new strategy will better address the variety of needs and challenges faced by children, young people and families in our city.”

Councillor Andy Coles, cabinet member for children's services at the city council, said: "I would like to pay tribute to the hard work of our social care staff. Peterborough has many challenges and it's testament to their dedication that inspectors found that no children were found to be inadequately protected or at risk of significant harm.

"I would also like to praise the impact of the senior leadership team who since the inspection was carried out have taken action to increase the number of permanent social workers, and other specialist staff, at the city council. We are determined to keep improving as protecting vulnerable children and families will always be our highest priority.”

At the same time as the department's inspection, the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) was also assessed by Ofsted.  The board received a rating of good with inspectors highlighting that the board 'identifies areas of improvement and influences the planning and delivery of high-quality services'.

Inspectors also praised the board for the following:

• The LSCB has played a key role in engaging partner agencies in the safeguarding agenda

• It has monitored the work of agencies and provided robust challenge and leadership in some important areas where services have needed further development

• It has been effective in co–ordinating responses to the considerable challenges presented by child sexual exploitation

Dr Russell Wate, independent chair of the Local Safeguarding Children Board, said: "We as a board are pleased that Ofsted has recognised the hard work that we as a partnership have put into keeping children safe and promoting their welfare in Peterborough.

"The 'good' judgement is only given to fewer than 25 per cent of boards in the country.  However, we know that we must not rest on this judgement, but continue to work with and support the Local Authority in the improvements that they are already making, as well as all partners and their staff that every day work to safeguard children in our city."

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