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Children's services have "mountain to climb"

Thursday, 16 November 2023 08:45

By Bradley Gerrard, local democracy reporter

Children's services are making progress (image: Unsplash/BBC Creative/LDRS)

But it's claimed progress is being made

Devon’s children’s service is making progress up the “huge mountain to climb” to escape its inadequate Ofsted rating by next year, it has been claimed.

Donna Manson, Devon County Council chief executive, said changes have been made in the children and young people’s service in a bid to improve it.

This included working in closer partnership with district councils and the NHS, as well as recruiting more permanent staff.

“We still have a huge mountain to climb out of inadequate a year from now, but that’s the task we have set ourselves,” Ms Manson told the children’s scrutiny committee this week.

“It’s a challenge but we’re doing everything possible to get out by this time next year, and we have very clear targets on that.”

Ofsted rated the service inadequate in January 2020, and  recently published a letter based on its monitoring visit in September.

The education regulator said too many care leavers lived in hotels or other unsuitable places, with “insufficient accommodation to meet the varied needs of Devon’s care leavers, as there was at the 2020 inspection”.

It added that the number of care leavers not in education, employment or training “remains approximately 10 per cent higher than the national average”, which it claims “diminishes life chances for these young people.”

Ms Manson acknowledged these problems had not been solved, but is “confident about hitting the milestones on the way” to improving the situation before the next formal inspection by Ofsted next autumn.

Ofsted noted that the issues surrounding accommodation and education are “now more fully understood by senior leaders and there are now plans in place to remedy the situation, which is a clear improvement”.

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter (Cons, Wearside and Topsham), cabinet member for children’s services and schools, said several changes have been made to improve the service, including progress with staff recruitment and retention.

“I totally recognise the need for permanent staff, and as the services improves, we are getting more of them,” he said.

“We now have 12 permanent heads of service, whereas a year ago these would have been interns or interims, so things are improving.”

He added that the ratio of non-permanent staff is still “not good” and that it is a high priority to recruit new staff.

Permanent advertisements are running for social workers and foster carers across the county, he added.

Cllr Leadbetter said the strategic corporate parenting board, which oversees how the council provides for looked-after children, had been reorganised into five groups to improve how it works with families and to speed up decisions.

Ofsted noted that social workers had described a “positive shift of culture and change” over the last six months, and that a training programme called ‘total respect’, delivered by care leavers and focusing on the important things for them, was “making a positive difference to practice.”

“A well-understood and applied practice model has gained traction with staff and is a stabilising factor during ongoing change,” Ofsted added.

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