Following a recent inspection, Cheshire East Council's children's services have been rated as 'requires improvement to be good'.
Ofsted undertook an inspection of local authority children's services in Cheshire East between 11 November and 29 November 2019.
The inspection report, which has been published today (9th January 2020) has judged that: 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 all require improvement to be good.
Ofsted inspectors have recognised that the local authority has made significant progress in some service areas since the single inspection framework (SIF) inspection in 2015, and the focused visit in October 2018.
Some of the key areas of progress highlighted in the report were:
- Strengthened arrangements in the service's 'front door' - meaning that children at risk of serious harm are identified swiftly and action is taken to safeguard and protect them.
- A comprehensive and well developed early help offer for families.
- Children at risk of domestic abuse have access to a wealth of support.
- Well embedded systems to safeguard children missing from education or home educated.
- The 'voice of the child' is a strength and social workers know the children well and work with them creatively to plan for their safeguarding and care.
However, improvement is needed in other services to ensure that children receive a consistently good service.
- While initial concerns are dealt with effectively and families receive a service at the right level of intervention, the subsequent interventions are not consistently good.
- Some vulnerable children's situations are not improving quickly enough.
- Management oversight and challenge are not fully embedded in all service areas, and the quality of social work practice is too inconsistent.
- There are avoidable delays in determining and implementing plans for some children, and not all vulnerabilities are fully recognised and addressed.
- Some children wait too long to enter care and experience a sense of permanence.
- Children experiencing chronic long-term neglect, children who are privately fostered, and homeless 16- and 17-year-olds are not always receiving appropriate help.
- Care leavers needing emergency accommodation are not always placed in accommodation where they feel safe and have their needs met.
- Senior leaders and managers were not fully aware of some of these shortfalls until the inspection.
- Efforts to improve foster carer recruitment have not had sufficient impact and some foster carers feel poorly supported.
Mark Palethorpe, acting executive director for people, said: "I am proud of the progress we have made in our services for children over the last few years. But, as the Ofsted inspectors have identified, we must continue to make further improvements to achieve the rating of 'good'. Our vision is to make Cheshire East a great place to be young and we will continue to keep children and young people at the heart of our services.
"We have launched a new social work practice model that has had substantial impact on social care practice and assessment. In the long term we are confident and committed to ensuring that this new approach supports improvements to consistency and quality, both in terms of practice, assessment and oversight."
"Foster carers play an essential job in the life of some children and young people. We value our foster carers highly and must work harder to make sure that they feel supported and that we recruit more foster carers into this very special role.
"Senior managers at the council are fully committed to building on our areas of good practice and bringing consistency across all service areas – further improving the effectiveness of their oversight and management in guiding work at the front line.
"I'd like recognise the continued commitment, professionalism and engagement of frontline staff and managers and also thank the inspectors for their insight and comments. These, along with continued oversight and challenge of our corporate parenting committee and children and families overview and scrutiny committee, will help guide us in our continued improvement of services for children."
Photo: Acting executive director of people at Cheshire East Council, Mark Palethorpe