Ofsted highlight county council’s response to Covid-19
Following their recent visit (between 6 and 8 October) to Children’s Services, Ofsted said that the council’s response to COVID-19 has been ‘positive, proactive and well managed.’
During the Focused visit, which was much more like a full re-inspection rather than a quarterly monitoring visit, Ofsted looked at the full range of services offered by the council. It involved a week long analysis of performance, followed by a week of interviews with staff, young people and their parents and carers with both remote and face to face interviews.
Ofsted noted that, whilst the pace of change in Children’s Services had previously been a cause of concern, there has been a marked change of tempo and inspectors highlighted the cause of this change as being rooted in earlier management decisions and a renewed focus and energy over the past year. They also highlighted:
- Robust business continuity planning which meant that from the very first day of the lockdown in March, colleagues in Children’s Services, were able to work remotely, helping to reduce the potential disruption to support and services for children and families.
- Despite the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) having to operate virtually, there has been no significant drop-off in its performance.
- Children in need of help or protection have been seen regularly throughout the pandemic as have most children in care, as well as care leavers whose support Ofsted found to be much improved.
- The council’s support for the introduction of virtual family courts has meant that care proceedings could still take place and delays consequently reduced.
- Social workers have made sure that despite Covid-19, children in care can continue to see and speak regularly with those family members who mean most to them, using technology for virtual meetings when necessary.
- Gloucestershire’s Social Work Academy and the training and development offer to front line Social Workers including the Essentials training programme is starting to make a real difference. The quality of social work practice is now more purposeful, more rigorous, more child-focused and more clearly sighted on impact and effectiveness.
- The quality of management oversight is improving and senior leaders have stabilised the workforce, with less reliance on agency staff.
Ofsted were impressed by the council’s decision not to take advantage of the flexibilities made available by the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, rather than risk lowering practice standards.
Inspectors acknowledged that senior leaders know which areas they need to improve including services for children and families at the edge of care, the use of pre-proceedings to prevent delays and the number and choice of placements available to young people.
Ofsted also recognised the progress the Virtual School is making in reducing exclusions and improving attendance, but said personal education plans needed improvement and to be more ambitious.
Cllr Richard Boyles, cabinet member for children’s safeguarding and early years at Gloucestershire County Council said: “Covid-19 has presented a huge challenge but our dedicated staff have worked hard to make sure that we are doing all we can to keep children safe and minimise the impact upon them. I’m really proud of the work that our Children’s Services staff have been putting in all year, and it is great to see that recognised. I’m also pleased that the significant investment that the council has put into this area is making real difference.
“It’s also great inspectors can see we have picked up the pace of change and noted improvements in areas such as management, quality of care plans and visits. There is still work to be done, but we know what action needs to be taken. We are committed to keeping our county’s children and young people safe.”
A copy of Ofsted's letter can be viewed here