Nottingham City Council continues to make good progress against an action plan to improve its Children’s Services department.
The authority was visited by Ofsted inspectors last year and presented with a report in July 2022 which graded the overall service as ‘Inadequate’.
This led to a series of further two-day inspections as part of a wider monitoring regime. The first of these was on 28 February and 1 March this year, with the second on 25 and 26 July.
Inspectors commented after the first visit that senior leaders had identified things which needed to change and taken swift action, that staff morale was better and there were clear improvements with the speed of response to support children in the first instance.
They acknowledged that the council also recognised more work was needed to sustain and continue this early progress and there remained further areas for improvement.
The most recent inspection in July focused on children in need and those with Child Protection Plans, including disabled children. Inspectors noted:
- There are early signs of tangible improvements in both the fieldwork practice and the environment in which staff work as a result of a ‘committed and stable leadership team’ and investment in agency staff to bolster the workforce and reduce caseloads.
- Children build strong relationships with their social workers, who have a good understanding of their needs.
- Children are visited regularly, and often more frequently than the minimum amount set out in their plan. Visits are based upon needs and help young people make positive progress against their plan.
- The council’s quality assurance and performance framework has been improved and is ‘supporting leaders to focus on further strengthening practice and learning’.
- Supervision is taking place regularly and staff feel supported.
There are some areas of continued challenge around retention of social workers, which makes it harder for some children to form trusting relationships with council staff.
Inspectors also noted the need to develop consistency across the workforce in areas such as the quality of recording, planning and reviewing actions to check progress, and ensuring parents receive reports in good time. It was also found that waiting lists for services impacted upon children’s plans progressing.
But the inspection team observed that senior leaders were aware of the areas for further development and have a clear focus across the service and wider partnership.
Councillor Cheryl Barnard, Portfolio Holder for Children, Young People and Education at Nottingham City Council, said: “These findings provide an important benchmark in our journey of improvement and, taken together with the first monitoring visit, demonstrate that improvements in our response to children in need of help and protection have been made.
“However, we know there is still much work to be done and we continue to effect the positive change rightly expected by Ofsted to ensure all vulnerable children in Nottingham are well supported.
“I’m pleased that inspectors have noted significant improvement during their two visits following the initial inspection. We understand that these changes must be sustainable and agree with Ofsted that this is set against a backdrop of workforce instability and reliance upon agency staffing, which is an issue for all councils.
“Maintaining staffing levels remains challenging, not just locally but nationally, where the recruitment and retention of experienced social workers is difficult, and services rely heavily upon agency staffing.
“We understand the pressure and demands on Children’s Services in a city like Nottingham with historically high levels of deprivation, and are committed to improvement in order to fully support our children and young people.”