Watchdogs say services for vulnerable children in Norfolk getting better - and adoption is outstanding

Adoption performance in Norfolk County Council's children's services was rated as outstanding. Pic:

Adoption performance in Norfolk County Council's children's services was rated as outstanding. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: EDP picture library

The service which cares for Norfolk's most vulnerable children is no longer 'inadequate', after inspectors upped its rating to 'requires improvement'.

Sara Tough. Photo: Norfolk County Council

Sara Tough. Photo: Norfolk County Council - Credit: Norfolk County Council

And Ofsted inspectors rated adoption services as 'outstanding'.

Bosses at Norfolk County Council say overall 'good' rating is 'in sight'.

But they acknowledge recruiting around 40 social workers is a crucial step to that and to bring down the high caseloads for existing workers. Some have caseloads of more than 40 children.

Ofsted judged the department as inadequate in 2013 and 2015 and there have been a succession of directors, mainly on a temporary basis.

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However, since October, the department has had Sara Tough as permanent director. Ofsted said progress had been accelerated over the past year. The new rating means it has been removed from intervention.

The report stated: 'Senior leaders have worked purposefully over the last 12 months to tackle critical weaknesses.

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'Most children looked after and care leavers now receive timely, effective support. However, these services still require improvement to be good. The service provided to children with a plan for adoption is outstanding.'

The inspectors have highlighted areas where progress needs to be quicker and more consistent, particularly around children who need help and protection.

And they say high caseloads, particularly in Norwich, social worker shortages and the need for better working with other organisations must be tackled.

The number of looked after children increased from 1,085 in November 2016 to 1,131 at the end of November last year.

Ms Tough said of the new rating: 'We are really pleased. This report reflects our own views of ourselves - what we knew we needed to improve and what we are doing well.'

She said she was especially pleased with the 'outstanding' for adoption services, including a foster to adopt scheme.

She added better early intervention would help to reduce the number of children in care.

On high caseloads, she said now the department is not rated inadequate, it would help in recruiting the experienced social workers needed to reduce pressure on other staff.

Getting a 'good' rating for children's services is in sight, council leaders say.

Penny Carpenter, chairman of County Hall's children's services committee, said: 'When I started as chairman, I said improving children's services was mission possible.

'Today, we've proven that, thanks to the hard work of our staff, foster carers, councillors and everyone else involved.

'We're not complacent - we've got to make further improvements - but getting to good is in sight.'

She added £12m was being invested into the service over four years.

What were Ofsted's ratings?

Ofsted rated the service overall as requiring improvement to be good.

The subsections of children who need help and protection, children looked after and achieving permanence, experience of care leavers and leadership,management and governance also require improvement.

Adoption performance was outstanding.

What have Ofsted inspectors recommended?

1. Ensure children are able to establish and maintain meaningful relationships with social workers and benefit from the consistency and continuity a settled and stable workforce, with manageable caseloads, provides.

2. Ensure sufficient capacity and systems in the multi-agency safeguarding hubs to support timely decision making.

3. Ensure the right agencies are involved in strategy discussions.

4. Strengthen response to children who go missing or who are at risk of sexual exploitation.

5. Progress work with health partners to ensure timely assessment of children's health needs and that care leavers have information about their health histories.

6. Improve the sufficiency action plan.

7. Better checks on private fostering arrangements.

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