Inspectors' report on Looked After Children's services in RotherhamPublished Monday, 21st November 2016
Rotherham is continuing to improve standards for children in care, although more still needs to be done, a new report shows.
A recent monitoring visit from Ofsted which looked specifically at services for looked after children, the first since inspectors found the Council's children's social services to be inadequate two years ago, found "clear evidence of improvement in some key areas" but also noted that progress "has been slower than has been seen in other areas across children's services."
The report also says that the Council continues to respond positively to recommendations identified in the 2014 Ofsted report.
Inspectors said there was a "stable management team, led by a director of children's services (DCS), which demonstrates, determined effective, strategic leadership with clear priorities and aspirations and a sustained focus on improving outcomes for children." Inspectors found evidence of "strong performance management and quality assurance" in place.
They also said that "improvement was evident", with reduced social work case loads, providing more time for a focus on individual children. They noted the recent reduction in the use of agency social workers and managers, which they said is resulting in a "more stable and permanent workforce" and the Council's strong relationship with its Looked After Children's Council. It found improving compliance with nationally monitored requirements such as regular visits to Looked After Children and numbers who receive regular health and dental checks. The Council's Independent Reviewing Officers were also found to be an emerging strength.
However there was not enough evidence in terms of provision for looked after children to demonstrate better outcomes are being consistently achieved and that front line social work practice was too often poor.
In the report Inspectors said more needs to be done to secure better local placements for children, especially those with complex needs, inspectors said. The Council has also developed some commissioning plans which were well received by Inspectors.
And although improvements have been made to reducing social worker case loads, there is still more to be done to strengthen front line oversight of social work practice. Inspectors said social workers were neither supported nor challenged sufficiently by managers to improve the quality of their work.
They also said when children become looked after, their needs are not formally reassessed either, which means in some cases on going risk and needs are not always recognised, including a small number sampled with potential child sexual exploitation vulnerabilities.
The report is in line with Rotherham Council's own self-assessment.
Ian Thomas, Strategic Director of Children's Services at Rotherham Council said: "This monitoring visit reflects our own assessment of our services and of course as inspectors point out, there are plans in place to deal with all the issues highlighted. This includes the implementation of a new social care IT system to aid recording and agreement to introduce a new social care operating model alongside high quality training and development to improve practice.
"We have had to invest in every area of looked after children's services as they have been severely underfunded for years, leading to the issues we are now dealing with. However, I am pleased the inspectors have recognised the hard work we have done, and will continue to do, to improve progress here in Rotherham."
Rotherham Council's Deputy Leader, Cllr Gordon Watson, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People's Services added: "I am pleased that improvements we have made over the last year have been acknowledged in the detail of the report. However, we are far from complacent, and completely acknowledge there is still a huge journey to go, but with the right commitment I believe we will improve outcomes for our looked after children. The children themselves are already telling us things are improving for them and this can only get better."