Improvement plan to bring ‘inadequate’ children’s services in West Sussex up to scratch

West Sussex County Council's draft improvement plan 'Children First'
West Sussex County Council's draft improvement plan 'Children First'

A draft improvement plan designed to help bring West Sussex County Council’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services up to scratch has been given the nod by a scrutiny committee.

Called Children First, the council was told to produce the plan by the Department for Education (DfE) after receiving a highly critical Ofsted report into the services after receiving a highly critical Ofsted report into the services.

The document should be adopted by the Cabinet later this month before being submitted to the DfE to show that an ‘effective and deliverable action plan’ is being developed.

At a County Hall meeting last Wednesday (July 17), members of the children & young people’s services select committee were told that ‘real strides’ had been made in the weeks since Ofsted’s report was published.

The improvement plan specifically focuses on the 12 areas identified by Ofsted as needing attention.

The areas included the quality of social work; recruitment levels and being able to keep hold of staff; the sheer case loads of social workers; and the availability of foster parents who would like to go on to adopt children.

John Readman, interim director of children’s services, said: “Our workforce, both the recruitment, the retention, their development, how we support them is so fundamental to this.

“Not withstanding the huge challenges that we have as a service, we’ve made real strides, which started before the Ofsted inspection, around recruitment and retention.

“We’re beginning to see some of the positive impacts for that.”

As part of the necessary improvement work, the DfE assigned a commissioner, John Coughlan, to oversee the improvements.

His recommendation will help the DfE to determine whether or not children’s services stay within the county council’s control or if the government will need to step in.

A team from Hampshire County Council has also been assessing the services and helping to develop the improvements.

Ofsted is expected to carry out six monitoring visits – the first in the week beginning November 25.

Looking at the progress made so far, members were told there were early signs that the huge case loads faced by social workers were being reduced; 41 newly qualified social workers would be joining the council’s academy in September, along with seven apprentices; and every child being dealt with by children’s services had been booked for a health assessment, with the backlog expected to be gone in September.

While pleased to hear about the progress being made, the committee was under no illusions that this would be an easy journey.

Anne Jones (Con, Burgess Hill East)  said: “We cannot pretend we can do this all in a short space of time. It’s going to be a huge process and it’s important to get it right.”

Ofsted’s 12 points for improvement

1. The infrastructure and services to support good-quality social work practice, reducing the number of transfer points for children. Clarity regarding the expectations of the workforce, including practice guidance and procedures and the quality of staff induction and training.

2. The quality of social work practice, to assess, support and protect children who experience neglect.

3. The effectiveness of assessment and planning for children in private fostering arrangements and 16- and 17-year-old homeless young people.

4. The quality of plans, particularly in relation to the focus on critical issues for families, time scales for actions and the consideration of what will happen if improvements are not achieved or concerns increase.

5. The quality of social work recording, including the inclusion of intelligence and an analysis of the critical issues for children in return home interview records.

6. Permanence planning for children, including the availability and use of foster-to-adopt placements, timeliness of assessments and planning for unborn babies.

7. The quality and timeliness of life-story work.

8. The quality and regularity of supervision, management oversight, direction and challenge, at all levels.

9. The effectiveness of quality assurance arrangements.

10.Staff recruitment and retention so that children experience fewer social workers.

11.The rigour and impact of corporate parenting arrangements.

12.The active engagement of all relevant partners to tackle weaknesses in services and improve outcomes for children.