OFSTED have published a letter recognising positive changes to children’s services following a recent focus visit at Southend-on-Sea City Council, but says more needs to be done.
The visit took place on Wednesday 23 and Thursday 24 March 2022 and focused on the council’s arrangements for children in care.
As part of the visit, the OFSTED inspectors looked at case files, met with the practitioners who held those cases as well as meeting with members of the Children in Care Council, a foster carer, managers, head and deputy head of the virtual school* and colleagues from health.
There was also special mention of the excellence of the adolescent intervention and prevention team, the edge of care team, the children with disabilities team and the virtual school.
For example, the letter praises the work of the adolescent intervention and prevention team, saying the children in their care receive skilled, tailored support and social workers develop and maintain good relationships with the children, helping them develop confidence that their best interests are being met. Older children also benefit from careful planning for the transition to adulthood and effective support from personal advisors.
Improvements outlined in the letter include:
- stronger leadership, including streamlined processes, better case management and increased investment in staff
- despite limited specialist resources, Ofsted noted there is some good work in the children with disabilities service
- the council was praised for its response to care for a greater number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children
- The Children in Care Council is an inclusive and enthusiastic group of children who are confident that leaders listen to their views
Further work needs to be done on:
- the challenges around finding suitable long-term homes and while there are action plans in place, the changes need to happen quicker
- there needs to be improved management, paperwork and priority given to direct work with children
- the matching and long-term placement of children also needs to be improved and too many live too far away from Southend
- there needs to be improved consistency for health provision and regular dental checks for children in care
Cllr Laurie Burton, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “As corporate parents, the council is responsible for the 321 children that are currently within the care of the council and we need to make sure the services we provide those children are the best they can be. We’re pleased the focus visit acknowledged our good relationships with social workers, as well as the many improvements we have made to the service, including in leadership and better case management.
“We know there is more to be done - we were already aware of what else we need to do, and we are glad that this Ofsted focussed visit has come to the same conclusions as us. The decisions we have made over the past few years are now starting to show results, and now we need to put our efforts into improving those areas and making sure our children in care get the best possible start in life.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the staff who work in children’s services for their hard work and commitment to making sure our looked after children, who haven’t necessarily had the best start in life for various reasons, feel like they matter, feel safe and feel looked after.”
The letter can be found on the Ofsted website.