Children's services at 'child-friendly city' receives 'outstanding' rating

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 19 December 2018

Children's services in Leeds has been praised by Ofsted for delivering on its commitment to become a 'child-friendly city'.

Ofsted praised the council for being child friendly in its approach

The inspectorate judged children's services run by Leeds City Council to be "outstanding" for overall effectiveness and in the key areas of leadership and services for children that need help and protection. It was judged "good" for children in care and care leaver services.

In a letter to Leeds City Council's director of children and families Steve Walker, Ofsted's national director for social care Yvette Stanley congratulated the council for its achievements - the service was judged good in March 2015, but safeguarding was rated "inadequate" in 2010.

"You are indeed 'child-friendly Leeds'," Stanley wrote.

"The whole report was a pleasure to read but I think it is particularly noteworthy that substantial progress has been made in delivering this vision to make Leeds a child-friendly city.

"Children are placed at the centre of work within the city and strong multi-agency strategic partnerships are promoting effective practice among their practitioners."

The inspection report described how Leeds' cluster model of early help quickly identifies children's needs and providing a wide range of services, including "consistently good social work support".

"The commitment to early help is tangible, with a strong belief that solutions to many problems can be found from within the family," the report states.

Inspectors found that Leeds had maintained a network of children's centres across the city, despite the authority experiencing a reduction of about £214m in government funding between 2010/11 and 2016/17. 

"This helps to ensure that families are offered support when needs are first identified," the report adds.

Inspectors also praised the council's agility in multi-agency working arrangements, with contacts being progressed in a timely way as a result of "clear and effective management oversight".

Ofsted noted that work in this area regarding domestic abuse, sexual exploitation and children going missing was particularly robust.

Inspectors were positive about the authority's treatment of care leavers, saying it was ambitious for their future, it encouraged them to pursue interests that broadened their life experiences, and had demonstrated "clear commitment to improving educational outcomes".

However, it found personal education plans used by the council to demonstrate impact and to assist children to make progress were "variable in quality" - a finding consistent with results of a focused visit carried out by Ofsted in January this year.

Inspectors also reported positive findings about social workers, who it said built "trusting relationships", knew their children well, and recorded visits in details with "clear observations and ongoing analysis to maintain focus on the overall outcomes to be achieved".

Although assessments were generally of good quality, they occasionally lacked information about ethnicity and diversity issues.

Walker pointed out that the judgment had been especially challenging to achieve as Leeds is a large metropolitan council.

"This result shows we are taking huge steps in the right direction to ensure this and I'd like to personally thank all the staff across the service who work really hard and put children and young people at the heart of everything they do," he said. 

"Everyone has a part to play in achieving this well-deserved result and I am so proud that together we are helping to improve the lives of children and young people across the city." 

A financial strategy report for 2017/18 to 2019/20 published by the council stated it had earmarked almost 65 per cent of its net revenue budget to support children's services and adult social care.

Ofsted has also published the results of its inspection of Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council's children's services, which it judged "good" overall.

Inspectors found the department to be outstanding in the area of experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, saying it swiftly moved children into permanent homes if they were unable to live with birth parents, and that "children and young people have consistent and enduring relationships with committed, skilled and determined social workers, pathway advisers and managers."

Inspectors judged the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families to be good.

However, support for children who need help and protection was judged to require improvement.

"Where children are at risk of harm, too much emphasis is sometimes placed on pursuing those parents reluctant to engage, rather than taking swifter authoritative action," the report states.

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