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Gloucestershire Business News

Ofsted highlights county council’s response to Covid-19

Ofsted has said the response to Covid-19 of Gloucestershire County Council's Children's Services has been 'positive, proactive and well managed.'

During a visit last month, Ofsted looked at the full range of services with a week-long analysis of performance, followed by interviews with staff, young people and their parents and carers.

While the pace of change in Children's Services had previously been a cause of concern, Oftsed reported a marked change of tempo and inspectors highlighted the cause of this change as being rooted in earlier management decisions and a renewed focus and energy over the past year.

The report highlighted:

  • Robust business continuity planning which meant that from the first day of the lockdown in March, colleagues in Children's Services, were able to work remotely, helping to reduce disruption to support and services for children and families.
  • Despite the multi-agency safeguarding hub having to operate virtually, there has been no significant drop-off in its performance.
  • Children in need of help or protection have been seen regularly throughout the pandemic as have most children in care and care leavers, whose support Ofsted found to be much improved.
  • The council's support for the introduction of virtual family courts has meant care proceedings could still take place and delays consequently reduced.
  • Social workers have made sure that despite Covid-19, children in care can continue to see and speak regularly with those family members who mean most to them, using technology for virtual meetings when necessary.
  • Gloucestershire's Social Work Academy and the training and development offer to frontline social is starting to make a real difference. The quality of social work practice is more purposeful, more rigorous, more child-focused and more clear-sighted on impact and effectiveness.
  • The quality of management oversight is improving and senior leaders have stabilised the workforce, with less reliance on agency staff.

Inspectors acknowledged senior leaders know which areas they need to improve, including services for children and families at the edge of care, the use of pre-proceedings to prevent delays and the number and choice of placements available to young people.

Councillor Richard Boyles, cabinet member for children's safeguarding and early years, said: "Covid-19 has presented a huge challenge but our dedicated staff have worked hard to make sure that we are doing all we can to keep children safe and minimise the impact upon them.

"I'm really proud of the work that our Children's Services staff have been putting in all year, and it is great to see that recognised. I'm also pleased that the significant investment that the council has put into this area is making a real difference."

He continued: "It's also great inspectors can see we have picked up the pace of change and noted improvements in areas such as management, quality of care plans and visits.

"There is still work to be done, but we know what action needs to be taken. We are committed to keeping our county's children and young people safe."

But the council's Lib Dem group feel the pace of change in Children's Services is not fast enough.

Councillor Colin Hay, the group's spokesman for children and families, said: "When reading this report, we must not forget that Ofsted's re-inspection has been overdue for a year, and was only delayed because of the Covid pandemic.

"Despite this, the Conservative administration is still failing these monitoring visits and failing vulnerable children in our care.

"If Ofsted visited tomorrow, there is still doubt as to whether Gloucestershire County Council wouldn't once again be placed in special measures, and the government might therefore be forced to step in and take control over children's social services. This must not be allowed to happen."

He continued: "The Conservatives have been in sole control of the council for 16 years, and failing our children for the last nine.

"As the report itself starkly states: "There has been a legacy of poor decision-making, poor assessments [and] plans that lacked focus".

"The Tory leadership must be held to account, because Gloucestershire's children deserve better."

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