Inspectors praise quality of support at former tri-borough children services

Joe Lepper
Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The quality of children's services at the three London councils involved in the collapsed tri-borough arrangement are continuing to perform well after the split, according to inspectors.

Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster councils had formed a tri-borough arrangement involving joint provision of children's services, adult social care and public health in 2011.

But the arrangement ended two years ago when Conservative-controlled Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster councils announced they intended to sever ties with Labour-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham and instead form a bi-borough arrangement for children's services.

The tri-borough arrangement has only stayed in place for some back office functions and specialist services, including the multi-agency safeguarding hub (Mash)

In the first full inspection since their last report in 2016, Ofsted has praised the work at each of the boroughs in the aftermath of the split.

Hammersmith and Fulham has retained its "good" rating by Ofsted.

Inspectors said there was a strong focus on improving support for children, among managers and councillors. 

The rating was for leadership, child protection, supporting those in care and leaving care, as well as for overall effectiveness.

"The newly established senior leadership team, with good support from corporate and political leaders, has focused on sustaining and improving the quality of work with children and families," states Ofsted's report.

"As a result, direct work with children is strong and the overall experiences of children and their families in receipt of services continue to be good."

It also noted that "leaders know their services well" and welcomed increased investment in areas such as contact and assessment services.

However, inspectors warned that "caseloads remain high" and while welcoming the support on offer to families through Hammersmith and Fulham's early help services it said it was concerned "in some delays" in providing help.

Under previous inspection arrangements in 2016, Hammersmith and Fulham was also rated "good" for child protection, children in care and care leavers services, while its leadership and adoption support were rated as "outstanding".

Meanwhile Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster continue to be rated "outstanding". The judgment relates to all areas of children's services, including their overall effectiveness.

Inspectors said "leaders and senior managers work together highly effectively within a bi-borough approach to provide excellent strategic and some shared operational services".

Ofsted also praised the "highly effective" work of their Mash, which they continue to share with Hammersmith and Fulham.

Inspectors found that in Kensington and Chelsea's "direct work with children in care and with children who need help and protection is highly skilled and purposeful".

Their report adds: "Such practice helps children to understand their histories while providing highly effective emotional help and support.

"Children's views, wishes and feelings are at the very core of the support they receive."

Ofsted also gave Kensington and Chelsea its highest rating in 2016 for looked after children, adoption and care leaver services as well as its leadership, while child protection support was rated as "good".

Support for children in Westminster is "excellent" according to Ofsted, which is impressed that support for care leavers and children in need of protection has "developed further" since they were last inspected three years ago.

Inspectors noted how children in care are referred to as "our children" across the council which sees them as members of "the family firm".

"Children and care leavers live in high-quality, well-matched and stable settings, and many achieve well at school, higher education, employment and training," adds Ofsted's inspection report for Westminster.

"The corporate parenting board efficiently and imaginatively exercises its duties, helping many children to live content and enriching lives."

In 2016 Westminster was rated "outstanding" for looked-after children and adoption support as well as its leadership. Its child protection and care leaver support was rated "good".

David Lindsey, Kensington and Chelsea's lead member for families and children's services, said: "This report highlights perfectly the hard work that children's services teams in Kensington and Chelsea put in every day."

Westminster's cabinet member for family services Heather Acton said: "We are proud of our excellent services for children and young people across Westminster."

Hammersmith & Fulham Council said: "We're really delighted that the positive practice in children's social care has been recognised, given that it is just 18 months since development of our new children's services department.

"We're very proud of our staff and pleased that the inspectors noted that morale is high and that staff enjoy working in the borough. They also recognised the investment made in staff by the council. This report shows our commitment to deliver high quality services to all the children and families living in the borough."