One year on: Improving Somerset’s Children’s Services

Key Somerset County Councillors were this week briefed on improvements in Children’s Services, including recruitment of more permanent social workers, lower caseloads and stable leadership.

An update to the Council’s Cabinet looked back at the 12 months since the introduction of a crucial nine priority plan to drive change. While there is still a long way to go, the report highlights the progress made in many areas over the last year, including:

• Reduced social work caseloads – down from 20 to an average of 14
• The recruitment of 44 permanent new social workers – as well as 26 new graduate social workers having joined the authority
• Reduced social worker turnover rate – down from a 20 per cent ratio to 14 per cent, making it below the national average
• The appointment of a permanent team of senior managers – providing stability and leadership

“I am very well aware that there is still a huge amount of work to do. All our staff and our partners know what needs to be done and I am very pleased with how hard everyone is working to improve services for children and to get as far as we have over the last 12 months,” said Cllr Frances Nicholson, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services.

“Protecting children isn’t just the responsibility of the County Council, and we have worked closely with our many partners, including police and health colleagues, to make these improvements and lay firm foundations to build on.

“A stable workforce is vital and very difficult to achieve when there is a desperate national shortage of social workers and authorities across the country are competing to recruit. We are recruiting successfully now because we have put our children’s services on the map. People know what we are doing and know that if they join us they can really make a difference.

“Just as importantly, we are also seeing fewer social workers leaving us and that’s another indication that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Other improvements highlighted in the report include:

• More local care placements – the percentage of children looked after placed more than 20 miles from home has fallen from 37 per cent to under 28 per cent.
• More children are now receiving a return to home interview if they run away – 52 per cent compared to just 9 per cent a year ago.
• Introduced threshold guidance as part of the Somerset Safeguarding Children’s Board to make sure social workers and partner agencies have clear guidance for children and families so that they can receive the right services, in the right place, at the right time.

Having achieved the objectives of the nine priorities, which were agreed in May 2015, the service is now focussing on the delivery of a three-year Children and Young People’s Plan.

The multi-agency plan has been requested by the Department for Education and its advisors from Essex County Council who are supporting Somerset in its improvement work. It is due to be considered for approval at a meeting of Somerset County Council’s Cabinet on 11 May, and includes a workforce strategy that aims to have permanent social workers making up 90 per cent of frontline staff by 2017/18.

 

The nine priority improvements were a time-limited plan, in order to fix the immediate issues and address the immediate Ofsted recommendations.

1. Strengthening Strategic Leadership
2. Improving Social Work Capacity
3. Developing Management Capacity
4. Ensuring Quality Safeguarding across all agencies
5. Systematically identifying children most at risk across all agencies
6. Assessing the safety of all children who go missing
7. Embedding Early Help
8. Increasing local care placements
9. Achieving permanence for children in care

A three-year, multi-agency Children and Young People’s Plan (CYPP) has been developed to assist this focus and will focus on seven themes.