Northumberland children's services rated 'good' by Ofsted in major step forward for county council

Inspectors have assessed children’s services in Northumberland as good across the board, a major step forward from the last rating.

Monday, 2nd March 2020, 10:07 am
Updated Monday, 2nd March 2020, 1:57 pm
Cath McEvoy-Carr, the executive director of children’s services, and Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services, celebrate the Ofsted inspection report.

Following a two-week inspection of its children’s social-care services, Northumberland County Council has been praised by Ofsted for its ‘thoughtful strategic planning and determined focus’, which have meant that ‘children are helped, protected and cared for to a good standard’.

The detailed assessment also led to good ratings in each of the four main inspection areas – the impact of leaders on social work practice; the experience and progress of children who need help and protection; the experience and progress of children in care and care leavers; and overall effectiveness.

Back in 2016, the service was rated as requiring improvement and council bosses admit it was down towards inadequate – the lowest of the four ratings given by the schools watchdog.

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Since then, according to the report published on Monday, March 2, the local authority ‘has successfully delivered improved and good-quality operational practice in most areas of service provision’.

Graham Reiter, the service director for children’s social care at the council, said: “The big difference has been the investment in services in terms of developing capacity.

“This is really challenging work to do for our front-line staff. We have pushed to develop a culture to make sure we learn from what’s done well and what we have done not so well.”

Cath McEvoy-Carr, the executive director for children’s services, added: “I know that elected members and the chief executive are committed to making sure we are properly resourced. There’s never been significant pressures that other local authorities have perhaps been faced with.”

The report acknowledges that ‘members and leaders recognised the need to increase the number of social-work posts across the county and successfully secured funding. This has resulted in a reduction in social workers’ case-loads, allowing them to spend more time with children and their families and engage in purposeful and effective direct work’.

It also says: ‘Elected members and senior leaders in Northumberland work well together, with a child-focused approach that improves the lives of children who need their services.’

Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Keeping children and young people in our county safe and making sure that they have strong foundations, in often the most challenging circumstances, is a top priority for the council.

“It was fantastic that Ofsted inspectors recognised this and their report highlighted some of the tremendous work that is going on throughout our children’s social-care services by all staff.”

Mrs McEvoy-Carr was also full of praise and pride for the staff, who get ‘more criticism than thanks’ when going about their work, which ‘makes a difference to the lives of children and families on a daily basis’.

Elsewhere, the report notes that children and young people ‘come into care in a timely manner when it is in their best interests’.

But it adds: ‘However, for a small number of children, there are missed opportunities to intervene earlier when concerns of historical, chronic neglect are present.’

The report also highlights four areas for improvement, primarily in the quality of some written plans and documents.

Mrs McEvoy-Carr said: “Inspectors acknowledged that evidence shows that senior leaders have responded without delay to the recommendations and areas for improvement in previous inspections and our response to the points raised in this report will be no different.

“We are already tightening up on our protocols in these areas and will make sure that improvements are made without delay.”

Asked about what would be needed to secure an outstanding rating, she said: “We are doing this to make sure we are doing the best for children and families in Northumberland, not for an Ofsted rating. It’s just about maintaining the pace of improvement.”