Since the introduction of Ofsted's single inspection framework for children's services departments in late 2013, three-quarters of local authorities have been rated "requires improvement" or "inadequate". So departments that buck the trend and get a "good" verdict or better – currently, only one has been rated "outstanding" - know that they have demonstrated a quality of work that marks it out from the pack.
Trafford is one of those. The borough's latest Ofsted report describes its work with care leavers is "exemplary", its quality assurance "excellent", while its workforce planning has created an "extremely stable and positive environment" for social work.
John Pearce, acting corporate director for children, families and wellbeing, says the foundation for Trafford's success is its commitment to integrated and quality assurance.
"We've had a long-standing integrated model here," he says. "The area teams and the multi-agency front-door service has been in place since 2010 and it has been hugely successful."
Breaking down barriers
It was hard work at first but five years on it has matured into a winning approach. "It took quite some time to get to this point," says Pearce. "There was a lot of work done on breaking down professional barriers and establishing a clear culture and processes around that, but what we do know now is that staff really value that integrated model and see the benefits of it."
Trafford's integrated approach has led to many initiatives where the skills of one profession are applied in areas traditionally seen as the remit of other professions to deliver better results overall. One example is creating a role within children in need services, similar to that of an independent reviewing officer, to help multi-agency teams provide support to avoid cases unnecessarily escalating to child protection level.
Another example is how Trafford is dealing with child sexual exploitation (CSE). "Rather than have a standalone specialist CSE team, we've been embedding it into our everyday practice," says Pearce. "We have designated workers across all our teams who are trained up on CSE so we are able to embed good practice across all services rather than having knowledge concentrated in a small group of staff."
Many of these developments emerged from the council's focus on performance management and quality assurance. "We know ourselves very well," says Pearce. "We have very strong quality assurance mechanisms that are able to identify what those areas for development may be and then tackle those."
But, says Pearce, gathering truckloads of information is no use if you don't act on it and that's why the council holds monthly senior safeguarding meetings "so that all the performance data, audit activity, evaluations and feedback from children and staff come into one place".
He adds: "We get into quite detailed debates about what we need to learn from this information and those meetings then churn out things for particular areas of practice to look at in more detail or themes to focus on. It's quite a time commitment and is very detailed but has a huge impact on how we work and enables us to be a learning organisation."
- Name: Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council
- Location: Trafford, Greater Manchester
- Description: Trafford is a youthful borough with children and young people representing 23 per cent of its population. Around 15 per cent of children in this comparatively affluent local authority live in relative poverty. The proportion of children from ethnic minority backgrounds is in line with the national average at 22 per cent. In 2014, 112 children ceased to be looked after in Trafford, 16 of who were adopted. The council runs three children's homes.
- Number of children: 52,728 under-18s, of which 258 were subject to a child protection plan at 31 December 2014
Be outward facing. Trafford is always looking out for new ideas that can inform its practice, says John Pearce, acting corporate director for children, families and wellbeing. "We have a number of programmes where we've been national pilots and then embedded those. We also engage in things like regional networks with other authorities and the Department for Education."
Unite schools. Trafford has an agreement with local schools that lets it retain some of the pupil premium for looked-after children so it can provide educational psychologists and other support for those children borough-wide. "The big advantage of having a centrally held pupil premium is that the virtual head has been able to buy in education and welfare support," says Pearce.
Make time for reflective supervision. Trafford ensures that its social workers get the time for reflective supervision and checks it happens through its audit system, Pearce explains. "We check to ensure they are prioritising reflective supervision and are seeing it as part of their everyday job."