Children in Dorset are benefiting from much better help and protection and senior leaders have a clear understanding of what needs to improve, say Government inspectors.
Earlier this month, Ofsted looked at Dorset Council’s arrangements for children in need and those subject to a child protection plan. They looked at a range of evidence, including case discussions with social workers, quality assurance information and children’s case records.
They said children are increasingly benefiting from stronger and more consistent relationships with their social workers and parents better understand the changes they need to make and are supported to make those changes.
Inspectors agreed with the council’s own self-assessment that more work is needed to address inconsistencies in the quality of practice across the county, including the timeliness and quality of child protection plans. Inspectors noted that senior leaders are aware, addressing the issue and making sure social workers update records as soon as a child is seen.
The main areas for improvement are:
• the quality of chronologies, so social workers can better understand the impact of children’s histories and what this means for their plans
• the effectiveness of management oversight so that plans progress and improve children’s situations in a timescale that is right for them
• changing how the council examines its cases (known as audits), so that greater focus is given to the experience of children
Inspectors said the new executive director for children and her senior leadership team has a clear understanding of what needs to improve.
Cllr Andrew Parry, portfolio holder for children, education and early help at Dorset Council, said:
“We’re working hard to make sure we offer children and families the best possible support. I’m pleased that Ofsted can see that improvements are starting to be made. We recognise we still have a lot to do, but it’s encouraging to hear inspectors recognise the plans we have in place and that we’re heading in the right direction.”
Inspectors noted Dorset’s transformation programme in children’s services, saying it is ‘ambitious’ and ‘thoughtful’. The council is mid-way through an employee consultation on a proposed new structure, known as Blueprint for Change. Initial proposals include:
• early help, social care and education employees working together in local areas (rather than as separate services) so they’re closer to families
• developing a new adolescent service, to help teenagers address some of the trauma they’ve experienced
• social workers staying with the same child from assessment onwards, so they can build trust, strong relationships and offer greater stability
• providing more residential care in Dorset to reduce out-of-county placements and support young people locally
• working more closely with colleagues in adult services to provide whole-life support for children with a disability
• re-introducing detached youth worker posts, based in local communities where young people are
Sarah Parker, Executive Director for Children at Dorset Council, said:
“The needs of our children and families are the focus of everything we do. We want to work with parents and support them earlier so we can keep more families together, because that’s ultimately better for children. For those that do need our care, we want them to be looked after in a nurturing setting while we support them to return home or find an alternative permanent home. We need to make sure every penny we have supports families in need of help and reduces the number of coming children in care. We know what we need to do to improve the lives of children and families and we’re determined to do it. ”