Ofsted praises progress at 'inadequate' council

By Joe Lepper

| 25 January 2017

A children's services department, rated as "inadequate" three years ago, has been praised by Ofsted for tackling key concerns around high caseloads and low morale.

Inspectors have noted a number of improvements within children's services at Manchester Council. Picture: Manchester City Council

During a monitoring visit to Manchester City Council last month, the inspectorate found that a greater focus on training and development opportunities by senior staff had improved morale among frontline professionals.

This was Ofsted's second monitoring visit following a damning inspection report in September 2014, in which the council was rated as "inadequate" due to high caseloads and concerns that as many as 500 children were at risk due to delays in carrying out assessments.

In a letter to the council's executive director for children Paul Marshall, the inspection team said that staff "now feel well supported by their managers".

Additional investment in staffing had also helped reduce pressure on independent reviewing officers (IROs), who now have caseloads of between 70 and 78.

Social workers told inspectors this meant they could spend more time with children ahead of reviews, which now have far greater IRO involvement.

Other improvements include better partnership work to ensure child protection conferences are well attended by a range of professionals.

Senior managers are also getting better at scrutinising cases through more robust auditing, which has resulted in increased levels of oversight.

Ofsted has highlighted a number of areas of ongoing concern though, including a failure to "consistently" represent children's views at child protection conferences and reviews. It also wants to see better communication with families ahead of such meetings to ensure information and reports are shared with them.

Improvements in information sharing are also needed among frontline professionals and the safeguarding unit. Inspectors found that changes in a child's circumstances were not always shared with the unit.

"This means that IROs do not always know about issues that could influence the progress of children's plans," the inspection letter states.

Meanwhile, Ofsted has also welcomed progress at Torbay Council, which was handed an "inadequate" judgment following an inspection in October 2015, but a number of concerns remain. 

In a letter to the council's director of children's services Andrew Dempsey, the inspectorate said that the overall pace of improvement has been "too slow".

However, inspectors said they are optimistic this can speed up due to a "beefing up" of the management team last summer. This included the secondment of an interim assistant director, which, Ofsted said, "led to improved focus".

"The senior leadership team is now well placed to continue to deliver the ambitious and well-targeted improvement plan," the letter adds.

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