Ofsted inspectors have praised effective and innovative work, and knowledgeable and skilled staff in supporting vulnerable children in Stoke-on-Trent.
Two inspectors from the government service carried out a two-day visit of Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s services for vulnerable adolescents in April. The visit focused on children and young people who are being, or who are at risk of being sexually and criminally exploited, those missing from home and care, and young people associated with gangs.
They found that children in the city ‘benefit from a well-co-ordinated array of services that provide help at an early stage’. The inspectors were particularly impressed with the council’s prompt and effective action in quickly identifying children who go missing, strong partnership work with a range of agencies, and the authority’s trialling of different ways of working to deliver effective support to children and schools.
Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for education and economy, said: “Inspectors carried out a thorough review of our services. We are really pleased that they had the opportunity to see the high level of commitment and hard work of our staff, the knowledge and expertise that our services provide and the excellent social work practice we have in place to support vulnerable children in the city.
“We are absolutely committed to providing the highest quality support, tailored to the needs of children in Stoke-on-Trent. We have well established and strong working relationships with partner agencies, and our work is making a real and lasting difference to people’s lives.”
In a letter to the authority, which has been published today (Wednesday), inspectors praised:
· Mature strategic relationships with key safeguarding partners, leading to effective and innovative practice with sexually and criminally exploited children, those missing from home and care, and young people associated with gangs.
· Timely risk assessments, thorough communication between agencies and practitioners, and well established multi-agency teams that ensure children receive effective early intervention.
· A strong emphasis on understanding the impact on children and listening to their views.
· Effective workplace planning and recruitment, with a stable workforce that enhances consistency for children and families.
· Enthusiastic and committed staff at all levels who work hard through difficult circumstances.
· Well-co-ordinated, effective multi-agency working and information sharing to support children who go missing from home, school or education and those who have been or are at risk of sexual exploitation.
· Robust, regular partnership oversight for children who are educated at home or outside of schools.
· A coherent, multi-agency strategy that is making a significant difference in protecting the increasing number of children at risk of criminal exploitation or associated with gangs.
· Out-of-hours and emergency teams who work with partners to prioritise responses and support to vulnerable children and their families when they are in crisis.
· New ways of working, including a partnership with six schools which provides social work support and advice for teachers and is reducing the number of referrals to children’s social care.
Inspectors questioned high caseloads of social work teams and the capacity of managers and administrators to deal with demands on the service. But they found that morale is good, and praised the council’s ‘systemic approach’ in helping teams to deal with consistently high volumes of work.
Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Safeguarding Board independent chair John Wood said: “The inspection has highlighted areas of excellent working practice to support children identified as having significant challenges in their lives. The city council rightly deserves praise for this work and residents should be reassured that there are highly skilled and professional teams delivering high quality services to help people in times of crisis and support those that are among the most vulnerable in the city.
“This work involves a range of partner agencies. Inspectors have mentioned the work of Staffordshire Police, and there is strong multi-agency work with a wide range of public and voluntary sector organisations. This good work needs to continue so that the right support for children is provided for the future.”
The two-day inspection was a focused visit by Ofsted, and follows a full inspection that took place in summer 2015. These visits do not give a rating to services but identify strengths and areas for development.
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