Lin Hazell: "There is still much more to do" but "steady progress" being made by Children's services, says Ofsted report

County Hall, home of Buckinghamshire County Council

County Hall, home of Buckinghamshire County Council

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The County Council is making ‘steady progress’ to improve children’s social care services in Buckinghamshire and is ‘strengthening practice’, according to Ofsted in their monitoring visit letter published today

The letter follows the second monitoring visit from Ofsted in November 2016, during which inspectors looked at services for children looked after by Buckinghamshire.

Ofsted note that ‘social work practice has improved for children entering care in the last six months’ and that ‘decisions for children to become looked after in the vast majority of cases seen by inspectors were timely and appropriate’; Ofsted also note that ‘whilst management oversight is evident in case files, meetings and supervision, it is not always effective in driving children’s care plans’.

The Report states: "Based on the evidence and cases seen by inspectors during this visit, the local authority is making steady progress to improve services for children in some areas.

The findings on how the department deals with preventing sexual exploitation of children is significant.

Bucks County Council was criticised following revelations during an Old Bailey court case in 2015 that two young girls, who were known to social services continued to be abused by a group of older men, despite telling social workers, health care professionals and a teacher what was going on.

The report adds: "The local authority has taken action to strengthen practice in respect of children at risk of sexual exploitation and children who go missing, but the pace of improvement in these areas is not meeting expectations and the use of the public law outline is not yet effective."

"Despite evidence of stronger managerial grip in some areas since the last inspection, there remains too much variability for children in care."

Positive findings from the report include:

- Social work practice has improved for children entering care in the last 6 months.

- There is evidence of proactive work to disrupt and respond to concerns of sexual exploitation, including the use of sexual harm orders and abduction notices.

- Social workers see the vast majority of children looked after on their own and visit them regularly, often more frequently than required by statutory advice.

- There has been investment in the Independent Reviewing Officer service (IROs) which has resulted in increased capacity and real improvement in the service.

- There has been significant improvement in the timeliness and quality of health assessments for children looked after.

- The judiciary and the Children and Family Court Advisory Support service report positive improvements in the quality of practice in court proceedings.

Areas still in need of work include:

- Social workers do not regularly update assessments in response to Children's changing circumstances

- Risk assessment of children looked after who are vulnerable to, or at risk of sexual exploitation are inconsistent and in some cases absent

- The quality of the recording of interviews, carried out by commissioned services, when children return after going missing is poor. Return home interviews are not timely and the take-up by children is not good enough

- The system in place to monitor the progress of work, which meets the threshold for public law outline, is not effective

- Too many children are waiting for important life story work to enable them to understand their life histories

Lin Hazell, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “Overall we are pleased that Ofsted are seeing continued and sustained improvement in many areas. It’s reassuring that Ofsted recognise how engaged our social workers are with their children, visiting them often, building good relationships with them and that children’s wishes and feelings are heard and acted on.

"I’m also pleased that it has been noted that the social care leadership team is effective in achieving improvements.

“We are of course aware that there is still much more to do and we all continue to work hard to achieve the level of service that our children and young people deserve.”

David Johnston, Managing Director for Children’s Social Care and Learning, said: “The outcome of Ofsted’s second monitoring visit is encouraging and confirms that children in Buckinghamshire are now better supported.

"Although considerable work still needs to be done, it's another positive milestone for us to continue to build on.

“It’s important to note that we are already implementing changes in many of the areas noted for improvement including timely access to Life Story work and ensuring that commissioned services for children who go missing from care carry out timely return interviews to ensure those children and young people are safe.

“I would like to thank all of our social care colleagues and partners for their continued hard work, every one of whom is committed to making a positive difference to children’s lives in Buckinghamshire."