Ofsted finds that outcomes for Somerset children are improving

Somerset County Council’s services for vulnerable children and young people are improving, according to the latest feedback from Ofsted.

The letter from inspectors follows a ‘monitoring visit’ last month which looked at how the authority works with children and young people in need of help and protection.

It identifies areas of strength and areas where improvements are still happening, concluding that change is happening at an adequate pace. Inspectors also highlighted weaker areas and the need for more consistency to make sure that the good examples become the norm in all areas.

This is the latest external report on the authority’s Children’s Services and follows a letter sent in December by Edward Timpson, Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families, which highlighted ‘tangible’ improvements.

Councillor Frances Nicholson, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services said: “I welcome this feedback which reflects our own understanding. We are making the changes that are needed and things are improving.  Now the embedding of these changes needs to speed up in some areas.

“One of our key challenges now is ensuring consistency, so that the many good examples of social work become standard practice.

“I’m pleased by the letter’s positive references to partnership arrangements and joint working. Protecting vulnerable children involves lots of different agencies and working better together is critical to making the improvements we all want to see.

“Overall, I am glad to see that Ofsted recognises that outcomes for children are improving. All the work of improving our services is ultimately to improve the lives of our children and young people.”

Reducing caseloads and improving the ratio of permanent to locum staff is key to improvement. Following a recruitment drive and improvements to career development opportunities and training programmes, the authority is ahead of targets to increase the proportion of permanent staff.

Somerset is leading a partnership of South West local authorities delivering a Step Up to Social work programme which encourages graduates to choose a career in social work. The partnership has just been successful in a bid for funding for a second round of training that will bring a further 49 children’s social workers into the region.

Last year also saw a record 96 per cent of newly qualified social workers choosing to stick with Somerset after they finish their first year in the role.