Council turns around children's services to get 'good' rating

By Joanne Parkes

| 14 August 2019

Swindon's children's services leaders have been praised for their "swift and decisive action" which has turned around a decline in child protection work - just over a year after inspectors flagged concerns.

Swindon Council has created a "strong learning culture and conditions that help social workers do a good job", according to its DCS David Haley. Image: Google

The department, which was criticised for putting vulnerable children at risk in a report of a focused visit in May 2018, is now rated "good".

Swindon Borough Council's director of children's services David Haley, who has been in post since late 2017, and his leadership team, have demonstrated a "systematic and relentless" drive for improvements, according to the report of the full inspection published this week.

In its last full inspection in 2014, it was judged as "requires improvement" overall.

All areas for priority action from the focused visit have been addressed and children and families receive a "prompt and proportionate response to initial contacts made to the ‘front door'".

The report also describes child protection enquiries as "effective and timely", adding: "Strategy meetings are held when risks are identified, and result in well-targeted action plans and proportionate decisions to best protect children. 

"These are based on careful analysis of relevant historical information and information from partners, and appropriately consider the relevance to the presenting concerns.

"Child protection conferences are now timely, and appropriate partners attend these meetings."

Thresholds are also well understood and are appropriately applied by the professionals in the multi-agency safeguarding hub, say inspectors. 

There was also praise for "evidence of increased professional curiosity" and partnership working, with timely background checks and information being shared effectively. 

Risks to children from domestic abuse are also well understood, with an appropriate range of tools used to assess risks.

The report states: "Managers provide a detailed analysis of historical information, and actual and potential risks, and this is accompanied by coherent directives on next steps for social workers." 

Children are seen quickly by social workers and as frequently as necessary, so that the risks and needs for the whole family can be thoroughly assessed.

"Children are seen alone and in appropriate venues to maximise the opportunity to build a trusting relationship and to enable social workers to understand the child's world," adds the report.

Another key improvement is attributed to the council's strengthening of its early help offer, with a new early help hub.

There was some criticism from inspectors for the inconsistent quality of child in need and child protection plans. 

While planning for children is effective and well targeted, the actual written plan is not easily accessible or sufficiently clear," states the report.

"As a result, social workers are currently translating plans for parents to ensure that they fully understand the content. 

"Senior leaders have undertaken significant activity to improve plans.

However,this has not yet led to a consistent improvement for all children's plans."

Haley said it was "heartening" that the department had received recognition for the improvements which "ensure that children and families get a good service when they need it".

He added: "The report recognises that staff morale is high with a strong learning culture and conditions that help social workers to do a good job. 

"This is testament to the determination, commitment and hard work of staff across the council."

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