Derbyshire County Council has been told by Ofsted that its children’s social care services require improvement.
The education watchdog’s inspection focussed on children in council care.
This is the section focusing on those children subject to orders overseen by the authority, such as protection plans. It does not include children with special educational needs and disabilities.
Following inspections in July and August, Ofsted has judged that the council requires improvement overall, the second lowest grade.
It found that, while a raft of improvements had been made, there was still plenty of work to be done, particularly around the consistency and quality of support.
This includes support offered to care leavers and some children in need of help and protection, the watchdog’s report says.
It found that some children “wait too long for their needs to be met”.
Ofsted said: “Children in need of help and protection in Derbyshire do not have the benefit of consistently good services.”
The authority was assessed in three categories: the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, and the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers.
It was rated good for the former category, with glowing references on the impact that the leadership of Jane Parfrement, council’s strategic director of children’s services, has had on the service.
The latter two categories were both rated “requires improvement to be good”.
Ofsted’s report says: “The senior leadership team has a sound understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the service.
“Members of the team have worked purposefully to tackle shortfalls and, consequently, some services are much improved.
“However, the quality of support and help is not consistent across all services and there remain areas for improvement, particularly in the support offered to care leavers and some children in need.
“Starting Point (the children’s front door) provides a timely and effective response when children are at risk of harm, but it takes too long to progress a small minority of referrals when it is less clear about whether social care support is needed.
“This means that a small number of children wait too long for their needs to be met.”
Ofsted says that there is evidence of “sustained trajectory of improvements” within the children’s services department.
The watchdog also found that most social workers at the authority are well-supported which has been assisted by further investment in new staff.
But Ofsted also said that: “Some pressures remain: a minority of social workers have higher caseloads than the local authority target, and the quality of frontline management oversight needs strengthening.”
Here are the key points which Ofsted says the council must improve:
The timeliness with which Starting Point progress decision-making on contacts when there are no child protection concerns.
The quality and timeliness of assessment and planning for children in need, including disabled children, those in private fostering arrangements and young people who present as homeless.
The consistency of the quality of recording of strategy discussions.
The timeliness of initial personal education plans (PEPs) and initial health assessments for children newly into care.
The consistency of practice, including the effectiveness of front-line management oversight and supervision.
Ofsted found that while senior managers have acted to strengthen the quality of services, “and improvements are evident”, “the quality and timeliness of assessment and planning for children in need, particularly for some disabled children, those in private fostering arrangements and young people who present as homeless, require further practice improvements”.
Despite making consistent references on the benefits of the council’s recent investment into children’s social care, Ofsted also found that “the remodelling of children’s social care teams has resulted in some disabled children having too many changes in social workers”.
The watchdog says that the preventing family breakdown team provides a “high-quality service and adds significant value by supporting children on the edge of care”.
Ofsted gives glowing assessments of the council’s social workers, saying: “Children in care build positive relationships with dedicated social workers, who spend time getting to know them.
“Social workers are aspirational for children and support them to achieve their best, and to develop their interests and independence skills to help them to make progress while in care.”
The watchdog says that the authority’s “virtual school” ensures that children receive education quickly.
However, it also says that targets to complete personal education plans for children new to care are “consistently missed”.
A Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “Ofsted highlighted many strengths across our children’s services in their report as well as some areas for improvement.
“These are not a surprise as one of our strengths, and one which was acknowledged by the inspectors, is that as a result of constant monitoring we had already recognised and started work on many of the areas highlighted for development while also having plans in place for further work.
“We’ve made significant improvements over the last three years under the strong leadership acknowledged by Ofsted and are achieving well in many areas, but we’re not complacent and know there is still a lot of work to do.
“Ofsted found we are ambitious for our service, care about what we do and are focused on long-term, sustainable development and improvements and – as their report clearly sets out – are going in the right direction to continue helping the children and families we support every day across Derbyshire to lead safe and happy lives.”