Children’s Services in Peterborough have been described as ‘good and have improved significantly’ since Ofsted inspectors visited three years ago, with leaders praised for creating conditions for the practice ‘to thrive’.
In a letter to the council summarising the findings of a three week Ofsted inspection at the end of July, inspectors said services for children who needed help and protection, children in care and leaving care were good, that leadership was good and they gave an overall rating of good for the effectiveness of children’s services.
The letter noted that inspectors had found that there is ‘a stable and effective senior leadership team which has driven improvement at pace,’ with a ‘strong learning culture’.
Inspectors also said that ‘Children’s lived experiences are at the centre of practice and, as a result, they benefit from good, timely decision making. The participation of, and direct work with, children and families are key strengths.’
Inspectors highlighted that council-run children’s services, schools, health services, police and community services work well together, helping to support children and families and prevent difficulties from becoming more serious, stating: ‘Children and families benefit from a good early help offer, which is helping to prevent the need for statutory interventions.’ Inspectors added that ‘a range of family support is available, and this is effective in tackling emerging risks to children, including risks from neglect.’
Peterborough is piloting an innovative new approach called Family Safeguarding, where practitioners who are expert in working with adults who have emotional or mental health difficulties, difficulties with drug and/or alcohol misuse or who are in domestically abusive relationships have joined our children’s social work teams to offer a whole family approach, enabling families to address their difficulties and keep their children safe.
Ofsted noted that while this approach is still in its early days, ‘Children’s circumstances are improving through timely, intensive support provided for parents whose capacity for change is carefully tracked through multi-professional supervision. Children build trusting relationships with their social workers through ongoing direct work that helps their parents and professionals understand their lived experiences’.
Some children and young people have to leave the family home in order to keep them safe from harm. Inspectors said that ‘When children need to be in care, decision-making is timely and appropriate’ and that ‘Children in care get good support from their carers and their social workers to keep themselves safe’.
Peterborough has a partnership with the leading children’s charity, TACT, which operates fostering and adoption services. Inspectors praised this innovative arrangement, saying that ‘Foster carer recruitment, training and approval are effective’ and that ‘A wide range of children achieve permanence through adoption, including older children, children with complex needs and groups of brothers and sisters’.
Young people who have grown up in care need good support in order to make the transition into adulthood. Inspectors said that ‘Care leavers receive very good support from social workers and personal advisers. Recent pathway planning is more collaborative with young people, strengthening focus on their aspirations for work, education and volunteering, and consideration of their identity, health and emotional wellbeing needs’.
Some other key aspects highlighted by inspectors were:
- Planning for children in need of protection is supported by highly effective practice when children’s circumstances improve or deteriorate.
- There is very strong political and corporate support for children’s services. This ensures that children’s needs are prioritised, and that corporate decision-making, including significant areas of investment, is having a positive impact on children.
- Children [in care] spoke with pride about their individual interests and achievements and how much they enjoyed the free leisure passes, residential holidays and summer schemes which Peterborough local authority provides for all children in care.
- Children benefit from an increasingly experienced, permanent workforce. Social workers know their children well. This is a significant improvement since the last inspection. Almost all managers at all tiers are now permanent employees.
- A stable leadership team has an accurate understanding of strengths and areas for improvement within the service, prioritising the areas that make the most difference for children. All areas for improvement are being addressed.
- Social workers feel well supported by senior managers.
Inspectors recommended areas for development and improvement including the use of chronologies to underpin children’s assessments, the quality of information given to care leavers about their rights and entitlements, and consistency of management oversight.
Wendi Ogle-Welbourn, executive director for people and communities at Peterborough City Council, said: “Over the last three years there have been rapid changes and sustained improvements made within the department and we are pleased these have been recognised by Ofsted inspectors. This has been achieved because there has been strong political support and a children’s services workforce who are committed to making a positive difference to lives of children and families.
“Our Family Safeguarding Team approach was launched earlier this year and already we have seen a reduction in the number of children on child protection plans from 280 in August 2017 to 230 in May 2018. This means families have benefited from this new approach.”
Councillor Sam Smith, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “I’m delighted that the overall effectiveness of children’s services has been rated as good by Ofsted. To have a independent inspectors recognise that children’s needs are prioritised, that corporate decision-making is having a positive impact on children and that we create the conditions for social work practice to thrive makes me very proud.
“Peterborough is a tough place to provide children’s services due to the ever growing population of the city. We’ve focused on delivering positive sustainable change since the last inspection. Wendi, Lou and the team have put children at the heart of everything they do and improved the service for children by hard work, innovative thinking and a passion, and I thank them for that.
“We still have improvements to make, but we know what we need to do. Our city’s children are the future, it’s important that we listen to their needs, keep them safe and give them the aspirations and ability to thrive.”
Councillor John Holdich, Leader of Peterborough City Council, said: “I would like to pay tribute to all those who do the often tough job of supporting and protecting vulnerable children and young people in Peterborough. It is their hard work and passion that has meant that our services have improved so much since the last inspection. Keeping children safe is a top priority for us, and it makes me very proud that independent inspectors recognise the significant progress we have made.
“I was particularly pleased that our social workers told inspectors that Peterborough is a great place to work. I have always been proud of our City, and it is great that our staff are so positive about working here because this means that we will continue to attract the brightest and the best to help improve the lives of children and young people in Peterborough.”