Children's services in Dorset get a mixed review from Ofsted

Children's services in Dorset get a mixed review from Ofsted

Published by Maria Greenwood at 11:56am 30th October 2019.

A report says the council's made progress, but there's still some way to go.

Ofsted's review of Dorset's children's services after a visit early this month was mixed.

Inspectors looked specifically at arrangements for children in need and those subject to child protection plans.

Children's services was last inspected by Ofsted fully in 2016, where all of it's service - except adoption - was in need of improvement.

768 sex crimes against children were recorded in the 12 months to April.

According to their report, there's children are benefiting from stronger and more consistent relationships with their social workers, and parents better understand the changes they need to make.

But, the council's been criticised over a lack of consistency in it's work, 

The report said:

"Children are now benefiting from much better help and protection.

"However, the variability in key practice areas, such as assessment and planning, aligned with some inconsistency in the application of threshold at key decision-making points, means that not all children receive a consistently good service."

Previous self-assessments done by the council have also been ineffective according to the regulator - focussing too much on process without enough consideration of the impact on children. Senior leaders have recognised this and say they're making the right changes.

child special needs

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

Cllr Andrew Parry, portfolio holder for children, education and early help is pleased Ofsted have been 'generous' in their report:

"Ofsted were generous in recognising the work we have done and I'm grateful to them for that. 

"But I, like them, and along with the rest of the council, fully understand that there is a lot more work that needs to be done going forward and we're implementing that at a pace as fast as we possibly can."

Dorset Council is currently part way through a transformation programme labelled 'Blueprint for change', targeted at restructuring parts of the service. It's hoped it might be the answer to some of the criticisms.

Photo of Dorset County Hall night sign

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
child reading

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."