The latest monitoring visit by Ofsted to Devon’s Children’s Services confirms that after ‘a long period of poor outcomes for children’, the council and its partners are now starting to make positive changes.
Since autumn 2021, a new children’s services senior leadership team at the council is bringing “a more cohesive, systematic and determined approach to doing what is needed to achieve the necessary progress,” inspectors write in their latest report, published today.
“Importantly, this is now backed by political and corporate leaders, who have committed additional resources to tackling the weaknesses in children’s services,” they say.
But what progress is being made is too slow.
Recent changes introduced by new leadership though are starting to bear positive fruit, and although they’ve not yet had time for their impact to be fully felt, inspectors acknowledge them in this report.
They include actions to address recruitment and retention challenges, with a new improved offer and incentives for both new and existing staff.
The council is beginning to see capacity increase, enabling social workers to spend more time with individual children.
Inspectors also note recent stronger practice in the way teams work with children in need and with protection plans.
“For these children, social workers have identified creative ways to engage them, and social work involvement is starting to have a positive impact,” inspectors say.
“Basing social workers in school,” another recent change, “is a positive initiative.”
Their role in schools is continuing to develop, but Ofsted inspectors say they can see some children and families benefiting from the arrangements.
“Children can get help and advice more quickly and build a stronger relationship with their social worker,” they say.
And, “relationships between education partners and social workers are more collaborative, and this has a positive impact for children.”
During their inspection, inspectors noted that for one child, this meant that their school was better able to advocate for them while the relationship with the social worker was developing.
Elsewhere, “the introduction of two ‘court progression’ officers,” another recent change regarding court processes, “has brought much-needed oversight to pre-proceedings,” they say. “They are working with social workers and leaders to continue to strengthen practice.”
That, and the provision now of training for staff to better understand the legal framework, “is starting to improve timeliness for some children,” they write.
“More recent initiatives, such as mid-point reviews of care plans and strengthened follow-up, are starting to have an impact for some children,” inspectors write.
This latest report, though critical about the pace of progress, marks a significant shift in the council’s approach and thinking.
“Children and their families are now a priority in the council’s plans,” confirm inspectors. “Elected members and corporate leaders are now embracing the need for change.”
Social workers now talk about a more open and accessible culture and a visible senior leadership team.
“This is a significant shift away from the more closed and centralised approach that has limited improvements in the past,” the report says.
“Social workers say that they value open, safe conversations with senior leaders and have found that these conversations have start to improve practice.”
And helping to keep the momentum, inspectors note that “the local authority’s scrutiny committee provides robust challenge to senior leaders,” and that “elected members are taking the shortfalls identified at the previous monitoring visit seriously and are now asking questions better targeted to ensuring that services for children and their families improve.”
Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, the Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for children’s services, said:
“I’m pleased that Ofsted acknowledge the positive impact that changes made by our new leadership team are beginning to have in improving outcomes for children and their families.
“Clearly there is a long way to go, but evidently today’s report is confirmation that we’re on the right path.
“Ultimately though, our true measure of success is with the children and families we support, and we are committed to making the improvements needed to bring better outcomes, and to develop our ambitions for Devon to be the best place for children to grow up, learn and thrive.”