GB Top 10 - Children’s services

In the second of our Top 10 series, one year on from Birmingham’s well publicised troubles, Government Business analyses the state of children services by focusing on the top 10 performing local authorities for their child care offering

In May 2016 Birmingham City Council’s children's services began being run by a trust after years of failings that saw the department named ‘a national disgrace’ by inspectors. This month, the independent trust which will be responsible for children’s services in Birmingham has appointed its first chief executive, Andy Couldrick, with plans to have the organisation fully set up by April 2018.

Having previously worked as Wokingham council’s chief executive and a director of children’s services in Oxfordshire, Couldrick and other senior officials at Birmingham City Council have set their sights on improving ‘outcomes for vulnerable children’ and making ‘quite a radical change to partnership working in the city’.

This month, the Local Government Association (LGA) warned that children’s services are quickly becoming unsustainable and are facing a funding gap of £2 billion by 2020. It claims that the number of children subject to child protection enquiries has increased by 140 per cent in the past ten years from 71,800 in 2005/06 to more than 170,000 children in 2015/16, while the number of children on formal child protection plans increased by almost 24,000 over the same period. Furthermore, the LGA says that spending by English councils on children’s services has dropped by at least nine per cent since 2010.

Figures such as these makes the work and achievements of the authorities on this list even more remarkable. In the second of our Top 10 series, one year on from Birmingham’s well publicised troubles and in response to their recent appointment, Government Business analyses the state of children services by focusing on the top 10 performing local authorities and organisations for their child care offering.

1 - Leeds City Council

In 2015, Leeds became the first core city in the country to achieve a ‘Good’ rating overall, with ‘Outstanding’ leadership, management and governance. More recently in February 2017, the Department for Education chose Leeds City Council’s children’s services to be a national ‘partner in practice’ to share its expertise with other local authorities, with the council receiving £9.6 million of funding in the process.

As the second largest local authority in the country, Leeds has a population of 180,000 children and young people, one in five of whom are reported to be growing up in poverty. However, despite the challenges this represents, along with shrinking local authority budgets, the council has been successful in reducing the number of children in care by 15.5 per cent since 2011, nearly double the national average rate of 8.6 per cent.

The innovation funding, which highlights the success of the children’s services in the region, will be used over three years to establish restorative early support teams for families who are facing more complex challenges, recruit leading practitioners for its restorative adolescent service and create a centre of excellence, building on the existing work of children’s services in Leeds to help other areas and other councils to reform and improve their work with children and families.

2 - City of Wolverhampton Council

Children's Services in Wolverhampton have been judged to be ‘Good’ by Ofsted, in the inspector’s latest report from the end of March, ranking the authority among the top 20 per cent nationally and the second best services in the West Midlands, with only Staffordshire placed higher. This marks an improvement from the previous inspection of services in 2011, whereby the council was ranked as ‘adequate’.

Lead Inspector Nigel Parkes reported that senior leaders at the council are ‘systematically driving improvements in services for children and families’ by sharing a ‘clear sense of vision and purpose’ and ‘focusing on key priorities’. This is highlighted through the improvements made since the council closed two children's centres and reopened eight others as ‘strengthening family hubs’ in 2013.

More recently, the development of Wolverhampton's Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub in January 2016 has helped ensure that ‘appropriate action is taken to safeguard and protect children and young people’, including those who go missing or are risk of being sexually exploited. Over the last 18 months, the number of looked after children has reduced from 780 to 626.

3 - Hertfordshire County Council

Hertfordshire County Council’s children’s services have been rated ‘Good’ following an Ofsted inspection of its services for children in need of help and protection, children that are looked after, and care leavers – putting the local authority in the top 25 per cent in the country.

Following a grant by the Department for Education’s Innovation Programme, Hertfordshire County Council has benefited by extending its Hertfordshire family safeguarding model model to Luton, Peterborough, Bracknell Forest and West Berkshire. In the last two years, Hertfordshire has developed a more effective and efficient child protection service with a radical overhaul of its practice method, culminating in the council achieving a 49 per cent reduction in the number of children with child protection plans in the 18 months between January 2015 and November 2016. In addition pre-proceedings and care proceedings processes have reduced by 76 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.

The council was also chosen along with seven other councils to trial the government’s flagship 30 hours childcare offer which went live in September 2016. As of January 2017, over 460 working parents in Hertfordshire, who would normally struggle to pay for childcare, were recorded as benefitting from an additional 15 hours of free childcare, believed to save parents around £5,000 per year with the cost of childcare, which can help get them back into work or to increase their hours.

The programme is on track to support its target of 5,000 working parents, one year ahead of the government’s national roll-out.

4 - London Borough of Haringey

Having set up its Outstanding for All Commission in 2012, the London Borough of Haringey has seen huge transformation in the success of its young people across the borough. The Outstanding for All Commission set targets for all local schools to be judged ‘good’ or higher by Ofsted and for GCSE attainment to exceed London-wide performance within three years. Having set such high targets, the council reported that 93.7 per cent of primary schools and 100 per cent of secondary schools are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and the proportion of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs A*-C increased by 14.9 per cent between within two years.

The borough has also adopted the Signs of Safety approach to ‘get to the heart of family work more quickly’, and in recent years has recruited a higher number of social workers so they can have lower caseloads and, as a result, spend more time with, and develop deeper relationships with, the children.

The London Borough of Haringey was awarded with the top prize in the Children’s Services category at the LGC Awards in March this year.

5 - Slough Borough Council & Slough Children’s Services Trust

The Department for Education awarded Slough’s Children’s Services Trust £1.4 million in March to support its transformation programme, aiding the introduction of ‘enhanced hubs’, which make it possible for social workers and family support workers to be readily available in the evenings and weekends, alongside existing emergency duty team support, making the services more responsive to families in crisis.

The enhanced hubs, a more dynamic way of delivering early help and support to children in need, add to the trust’s new and innovative social work model called Safe, Secure & Successful - which ensures that children, young people and families experience a more complete and responsive service to address some of their most common concerns. The funding will also be used to introduce a practice model to include Signs of Safety and a new domestic abuse assessment response.

Additionally, Ofsted’s second monitoring visit in March found significant progress in improving the outcomes for care leavers in Slough, with Slough Borough Council praised for its creative work, particularly in meeting care leavers accommodation and housing needs.

6 - Suffolk County Council

Suffolk County Council’s ‘Twos Count Here’ project ensures that eligible two-year-olds have high quality early learning experiences by supporting early years settings to meet the unique needs of increasing numbers of two-year-olds. It is a strengths based, time focused, reflective project which embodies Suffolk County Council’s corporate values and beliefs as it’s empowering, reflective and based on partnership working. The outcomes of the project have been significant and the needs of two-year-olds are now better understood and met, supporting them to make good progress.

Additionally, Suffolk Signs of Safety and Wellbeing, an ambitious child-centred and solution-focused plan to implement a single practice framework across all of its services, has contributed to creating a more positive and sustainable experience for children and families, fundamentally changing the role of services from the 'fixer' of problems to the stimulator of family-owned change.

Suffolk Fostering and Adoption Service is also launching the Mockingbird Family Model of foster care in the region, in partnership with The Fostering Network, following £3.76m in funding through the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme. Launching its first wave in October 2017, the model is based on the idea of an extended family, using a ‘constellation’ whereby six to eight fostering ‘satellite’ households living near each other are offered support from a dedicated ‘hub home’ fostering household of specially recruited and trained carers.

7 - Welsh National Adoption Service

Rebecca Evans, the Welsh Minister for Social Services and Public Health, recently heralded the work of the Welsh National Adoption Service (NAS) for the role it has played in lowering the waiting times for looked-after children to be placed for adoption. Since its inception, waiting times for adoption have nearly halved, from an average of 26 months to 13.5 months this year.

Having adopted regional working practices between local authorities, the NAS has benefited from wider pools of adopters, while the decision to handle the management of the Wales Adoption Register in 2015 has allowed for a more focused and better targeted approach to prospective adopters and deeper understanding of children waiting for families.

Speaking to Community Care in April, Suzanne Griffiths, NAS operations director, also pointed to the introduction of regional and national performance monitoring, which has resulted in a a 43 per cent reduction in children who wait more than six months for a match, and a 48 per cent drop in those whose plan is ultimately changed to something else.

8 - North Yorkshire County Council

North Yorkshire County Council is another of the local authorities to be one of the Department for Education’s Partners in Practice to share innovation in children’s services with other authorities. Since 2010, the council has transformed children's services, including social work practice, for children and young people so that the North Yorkshire Children and Young People’s Service has become one of the top performing authorities in the country.

Unlike many authorities, North Yorkshire employs no agency staff and has seen its number of social workers substantially increase. More importantly, the number of looked after children in the region has fallen by 20 per cent and child protection cases have fallen by 25 per cent over three years. The children's social care team now stands in the top 10 services in England for their success in reducing the numbers of looked-after children and for being rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ in every area by Ofsted.

The No Wrong Door programme, having received £2 million in government funding, has also been judged as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. Focused around hubs to replace traditional council run children's homes, each hub includes residential care home beds, emergency residential beds, community foster family placements, supported accommodation and supported lodgings and outreach support.

9 - Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster, and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

In April last year, the London boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster, and the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, also known as the London triborough, received £4 million from then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to redesign how they deliver frontline children’s social care - freeing up social workers to spend more time with vulnerable children and families.

Since first receiving funding, when all three of the authorities were rated as ‘Good’, two of the councils in the triborough have been rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted for its services for vulnerable children and families - the first outstanding councils in the country - with the judgement stating the innovation programme as key to their excellent rating. The joint Focus on Practice programme, which involved the whole workforce, from social workers at the front line through to the senior management team, deployed systemic therapists to coach and co-work with social workers and ensured that staff were supported in the application of new skills after attending training programmes, so that skills and knowledge were maintained and enhanced.

Furthermore, the Step Up to Social Work training programme created a pipeline of high-quality recruits, making the London region a destination of choice for social workers. Consequently, this made the workloads of each staff more manageable, allowing for continuity of workers for families. Twice a year the senior leadership team within the triborough spend a week observing practice and discussing cases with social workers, ensuring that a string understanding is present throughout the organisation, with policy changes made as a result of direct observation and consultation.

The six-year partnership between the three London boroughs to jointly provide council services collapsed in March 2017.

10 - Northamptonshire County Council

The council’s children’s residential homes, all of which are rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, work to help young people move back into the community, back home or into independence using a range of family intervention techniques and support services.

Additionally, the Grow Together, Foster A Child marketing campaign to recruit new foster carers, based on research which shows foster carers are motivated not by financial gain but by the opportunity to make a difference to a child’s life, was shortlisted for the Campaign of the Year award at the LGC Awards.

Lesley Hagger, director of children’s services at the council, launched the ‘getting to good’ project plan in 2016. Having seen the service move from a rating of ‘Inadequate’ in 2013 to ‘Requires improvement’ at the start of 2016, she outlined how the council would achieve a ‘Good’ rating, mainly to establish a Children’s Trust and continue the improvement journey so that our services are good.