Inspection recognises progress

A full inspection of Somerset’s Child Social Care services has resulted in an improved rating for the County Council.

The Ofsted report published today says that Somerset’s children’s services ‘Require Improvement to be Good’ and points to steady progress since the last inspection in 2015, with improved quality,  smaller caseloads and a culture of openness that supports future improvement.

One area – Adoption Services – were rated as ‘Good’ and described by inspectors as “an area of considerable strength” where “social workers and managers know their children well’ and ‘family finding is swift and effective”.

“Services for children have improved at every stage of their involvement with the authority”, the report says, which also highlights a “clear positive shift in morale” amongst staff and the good support give to newly qualified social workers.

The report makes clear that improvements have been inconsistent and highlights areas where further work is needed, including partnership working and outcomes for children looked after.

“I am delighted we have taken this big step forward but we will not rest here”, said Leader of the Council, Councillor David Fothergill.

“We have the ambition for Somerset to be rated by Ofsted as not just ‘Good’ but ultimately to be rated as ‘Outstanding’.”

“We have put a lot of resource and effort into this and these improvements are a tribute to our fantastic staff. Of course, safeguarding children isn’t just the Council’s responsibility and we will be looking to continuing to improve the way that all the organisations in Somerset work together to achieve this.”

Councillor Frances Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Children and Families, added: “Our staff have worked tirelessly to change, to be flexible and to reflect the leadership from the top of the organisation. It really is a team effort and I’m delighted on their behalf.

“There is a huge amount of comment and constructive criticism in this report and we will spend time going through it and getting things right. We are committed to improving our children’s services and we have the right staff and the right leaders to do exactly that”.

Ofsted’s report reflected improvements in children’s social care that have seen:

  • More than 160 permanent social workers appointed since the last inspection
  • A ground-breaking deal with the University of the West of England that has seen 71 graduate social workers employed at the Council.

The report issues a series of recommendations and highlights challenges and where further improvements need to be made. These included a finding that although no children were found to be at immediate risk of harm during the inspection, social worker practice is “variable” and managers do not always challenge poor practice.

It also highlights “improving partnership working, with clear senior commitment to address issues which affect children”, but says too many children’s cases have to be escalated to senior leaders in Police and Health before action is taken. And the inspectors called on the County Council and its key partners to do more to help children in care reach their full potential.

The report’s key recommendations include:

  • When children go missing, return home interviews should be timely and of better quality.
  • Ensuring there are enough senior managers to carry out the work needed.
  • Working better with partners to get positive outcomes for children.
  • Ensuring consistent use of tools for all children at risk of sexual exploitation.
  • Helping children gain access to advocacy support, help and guidance.

The full inspect report can be found on the Ofsted (https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/local-authorities/somerset)