Wokingham Borough Council’s children’s services has made steady improvements to the quality of social care during the past two years according to the latest Ofsted inspection report published yesterday (January 5).
A number of improvements have been made by the borough council since its last inspections of child protection, safeguarding and looked after services in 2010 and 2012. They include ‘well-coordinated services that provide targeted and specialist help at an early stage to families, reduced caseloads, early signs the workforce is stabilising and good adoption services’.
During a four-week long inspection, Ofsted found that when children are at risk of harm, social workers recognise it and take appropriate action quickly to protect them.
Ofsted inspectors noted the leadership and governance of children’s services is robust and effective and demonstrates many good elements. It also highlighted that in the vast majority of cases children and young people in need of help and protection receive an effective and prompt response from the team. Families, children and young people are also able to get the support they need when they are facing difficult problems. This helps them to make positive changes to improve their lives.
The report also recognised ‘a robust early help offer’ and a ‘front door’ service that is in place which is able to ‘effectively assess risk and ensure that the needs of children and families are correctly identified and timely services put in place’. Inspectors also highlighted the good partnership working across the patch that takes place between parents as well as other agencies including the police and health service.
There was particular praise for the ‘Signs of Safety’ model used to access children’s needs. This model, which has been implemented right across the service, means that children and young people’s assessments are robust and risks are identified quickly, allowing the team to safely plan their future care. Children’s voices are central to this way of working and the council strives to increase parental understanding of what needs to change.
Previously the council relied on agency workers and found it hard to recruit and retain staff. However, a robust workforce strategy has tackled this and the council currently has a turnover rate of 14% for social workers – one of the lowest in the country. The council’s approach to recruitment reflects the innovative decisions made by councillors, and the leadership of senior officers and principal social worker. Staff also have good access to training and the report notes they are ‘committed and positive about working for Wokingham’.
Good progress has been made to tackle child sexual exploitation (CSE) and the extensive awareness raising that has taken place across the borough’s schools on CSE was highlighted by inspectors.
The council is aware of the need to recruit more foster carers. Without local foster carers, it means children and young people have to live too far away, making seeing their families and friends difficult. Despite extensive effort, there is still a lack of local foster carers.
Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor, executive member for children’s services, said: "There are no surprises in this report and it reaffirms our own self-assessment of services. Plans are already in place to improve further; our development programme was acknowledged positively by Ofsted during the inspection. We know what we have to do to become ‘good’ and are already on the right path to making further improvements.
"Social work is a difficult job. We’ve worked hard during the past year to recruit and, more importantly, retain social workers within our Borough. Having a stable workforce, and relying less on agency workers, is so important to us. We’ve been able to achieve this by making innovative decisions as a council to ensure we provide the best possible services for children and young people in the Borough.
"I think it is right our adoption and post-adoption services receives such strong praise. When children need to be adopted this happens quickly. Children and their adopted parents are well supported and I am proud of this."