Children’s services in Northamptonshire have ‘improved across all areas’ and are no longer rated inadequate, say Ofsted inspectors.
Following a five-week Ofsted inspection in February, children’s services have now been rated ‘requires improvement to be good’, marking a key success in Northamptonshire County Council’s improvement journey and bringing it in line with almost half of all local authorities in the country.
There is still progress to be made to fully embed the improvements, however, and the service needs to continue its work around the recruitment and retention of permanent social workers.
In 2013, Northamptonshire County Council’s child protection, adoption and looked-after children services were inspected by Ofsted and were rated as inadequate. As a result, the authority was issued with a direction notice from the Department for Education.
Since then, the county council has worked closely with partners to implement improvements across the service areas, overseen by a monthly Improvement Board.
In its report, Ofsted highlighted the following improvements since the last inspection:
- The ‘excellent’ Social Work Academy, which is helping to recruit the best-quality social workers to Northamptonshire
- The improvements in how the service responds to safeguarding concerns, including the introduction of the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH)
- That all of the weaknesses highlighted in the last inspection have been addressed
But the inspection team said that work needs to continue to reduce the level of temporary and agency staff in the service in order to ensure children and young people get consistency in their care and support.
It also wants to see better case supervision by frontline managers and more regular and thorough assessments for children identified as being in need.
County council deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services Cllr Heather Smith said: “We were fully aware of the challenge we faced three years ago when Ofsted last inspected our children’s services and since then we have all worked incredibly hard to improve the service and make sure children and young people in Northamptonshire are safe and well looked after.
“We know there is still work to do to achieve the level we are aspiring to, but I am pleased that Ofsted has recognised our progress and the important changes we are introducing to address their earlier concerns.
“Like many local authorities, we do need to get better at recruiting and retaining permanent staff so that children and young people get consistent support from their social worker.
“The implementation of our children’s trust later this year will play an important part in addressing this issue as it will allow us to improve terms and conditions for permanent staff and reduce the current reliance on costly agency staff.
“I’m delighted that Ofsted has also highlighted the work of our fantastic Social Work Academy, which is another part of the solution as it means we can attract the best quality newly-qualified social workers and offer them training and support as they begin their social work career with Northamptonshire County Council.”
Director for children, families and education Alex Hopkins said: “Improving children’s services in Northamptonshire has been the highest priority of the council for the past three years. We are proud to have a high performing Youth Offending Service and all four children’s homes in Northamptonshire are rated good or outstanding.
“I want to thank our dedicated staff for everything they have done to improve the lives of children in this county.
“This new rating from Ofsted, while an important milestone, does not mark the end of our improvement journey and our hard work will continue to improve and deliver services for children and young people that we can all be proud of.”
A Children’s Services Improvement Board was created after the previous Ofsted inspection to assess and challenge Northamptonshire’s improvement programme and report back to government.
The board’s independent chairman Christine Davies said: “Northamptonshire has shown significant progress over the past three years but the council also has a strong understanding of the remaining challenges it faces to improve children’s services in the county.
“It is continuing to demonstrate real determination to work with its partners to deliver consistently good casework, improve the quality of assessments and ensure high quality management oversight and decision making.”