Children's social care

A challenge we owed to every child

Cabinet Member for Children's Services Wayne Daley has been explaining the challenges the children’s social care services team faced in securing their 'Good' Ofsted rating.

"There is no doubt looking after children can be one of the most rewarding and challenging things to do.

As a parent myself I can testify to the ups and downs many of us experience as we raise our children.

But imagine being responsible not just for one, two or three children, but thousands of young people scattered across thousands of square miles with a huge range of issues and needs.

The figures can be daunting. With around 60,000 children in Northumberland we co-ordinate 853 child in need plans, 526 early help plans, 365 child protection plans and have 415 looked-after children.

And just under half of under-two’s in targeted areas are engaged with their local children’s centre, while around 5,000 need Special Educational Needs (SEN) support.

That’s the challenge our children’s social care services team faces on a daily basis, and it’s just one of the reasons I’m incredibly proud the service was declared as ‘good’ following our recent Ofsted inspection.

Of course what makes the Ofsted rating even more pleasing is that during our previous inspection in 2016, we were assessed as “requiring improvement” - a position no local authority or indeed any new administration wants to find itself in.

The issues we faced were nothing new  - a combination of high demand, high case loads and inconsistent practice to name but three.

But making improvements across every area of the business involves much more than just trying harder or tweaking things round the edges - we had to completely change our ways of working, our culture and introduce innovative practices across the board.

A number of these really are groundbreaking and have been instrumental in turning the service around. We set up an academy for newly qualified  social workers - which opened its doors in 2018 - to make the transition from academic study to the world of work. We nurture, support and develop them to become confident practitioners.

There’s no doubt becoming a children’s social worker is hugely rewarding but also extremely challenging, and we owe it to our teams to ensure they get the best start and support in their careers to be the best and most effective social workers that they can.

Based in Blyth, so far 22 have graduated with bright futures ahead of them.

We also introduced an innovative ‘front door’ model - similar to a triage service in hospital - through which all referrals come and each child’s needs identified promptly.

Where safeguarding concerns are identified  these are passed to the MASH - a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub for Northumberland - where the council and partners from the police, health, education  and other services  share information promptly to support effective timely and coordinated responses where children may be at risk.

We were very pleased at Ofsted’s comments that “partner agencies work well together at the front door and this means that thresholds are applied appropriately, the right decisions are made, and next steps are well considered.”

This is exactly what should be happening - no-one, whether it’s a parent or a partner organisation, should be bounced from one person to another when they’re seeking help for a child. It’s just too important.

Another area we’ve really significantly developed is the Northumberland Adolescent Service. We’ve integrated a range of youth services to provide effective and coordinated support to our looked after children who are aged over 14 and those who are old enough to leave care.

As well as the service innovations, one of the most pleasing inspection findings for me was our staff’s focus on and effective engagement with children and young people - I’d say pretty fundamental to our work!.

To quote Ofsted: “Managers and social workers have been successful in ensuring children’s voices can be clearly heard. Social workers see children regularly...and use a range of direct work tools to build trusting relationships with children and their families. This supports social workers to understand the child’s wishes and feelings and how their circumstances impact on their daily life”.

All of this is just a snapshot of the hard work every single member of the team has put in since 2016 - from the executive director down.

So without wanting to bore readers with management speak, we really are a different authority to four years ago. There’s been strong political and financial backing, continuous improvement with regular scrutiny and a real culture shift within the council.

And while we’re understandably delighted with our current Ofsted rating, we know we can always do better and we’re determined to keep up the pace of improvement.

We owe this commitment to every single child in Northumberland."
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