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Devon’s children’s social services are now improving

Saturday, 13 April 2024 09:51

By Bradley Gerrard, local democracy reporter

Devon County Council's County Hall headquarters in Exeter (Image courtesy: LDRS/Will Goddard)

But improvements are still required

Devon’s children’s social services are now improving, four years after it was rated inadequate by the regulator.

In a letter following a visit in March, Ofsted, the education regulator whose remit also covers children’s services, outlined clear progress but also highlighted area where further work is required.

It said a key failing at its last inspection following a period of “slow and inconsistent progress” was that senior leaders did not have what they called a clear line of sight into what was happening to children.

“Positively, the current leadership team, including heads of service and service managers, has improved its line of sight by introducing manageable spans of responsibility, and staff report a more open culture that encourages them to raise concerns,” inspector Steve Lowe said.

However, he noted that quality assurance – essentially the assessment of its decision about children – had increased in volume “but is yet to become the valuable, independent insight into practice that is required as an additional safeguard to children.

“Rapid improvement in the impact of quality assurance, primarily within children’s social care but also alongside statutory partners, is a key next step,” Mr Lowe added.

A crucial development, however, was the moves the council has made to improve what Ofsted calls the county’s ‘front door’ – essentially the point at which children connect with the service.

At its monitoring visit last summer, Ofsted said the new senior leadership team had identified a “significant number of children” referred to the front door who had not had the risks they faced assessed for several weeks, leaving many vulnerable.

“At the point of the last monitoring visit, the senior leadership team had already prioritised making this service safer,” Mr Lowe said.

“The team’s response has been effective, eradicating the waiting list and establishing a permanent workforce in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) that is making better use of simpler processes.

“During this visit, inspectors did not find any decision in the MASH that had left children at unassessed risk of significant harm.”

While inspectors said “substantial improvements still need to be made”, they acknowledged that senior leaders have a “credible plan” for change.

Ofsted said the service “too readily accepted” parents’ refusal to let social services visit their children alone to carry out assessments.

“Too often, this focus on adults rather than children leaves children without a voice,” Mr Lowe said.

Encouragingly, the service’s response to demand is “now under control, with minimal delay in decision-making by team managers” – an improvement from concerns about children being “unmanageable” at previous Ofsted visits.

Elsewhere, Ofsted said the council’s children’s services need to keep better joined-up records, noting that only some information is kept about families, “reducing the ability to analyse cumulative risks”.

It added that records of whether children had benefited from lower-level, non-statutory support were “not linked to children’s records, increasing the likelihood that the same solution will be offered in the future despite not having been effective the first time.”

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, the council’s cabinet member with responsibility for children’s services, said it is “important to see, and for inspectors to note, the improvements that our teams are making.

“For that, I want to thank our teams for their hard work and commitment. But it’s equally important for us to hear from inspectors that we’re not yet there, and that further improvements are needed in some areas of our work.

“Today’s report should be seen on the one hand as saying we are a council that is making the right moves in the right direction, but also that we have room to improve and that we must continue at pace with our improvement plans.”

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