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Barnet Children's Services - our improvement journey

Children’s services in Barnet were judged by Ofsted to be inadequate when Ofsted undertook a Single Inspection Framework (SIF) during April and May 2017. The Council fully accepted the findings of the report and is working collectively with the partnership to drive the improvements needed to transform social care services for children, young people and their families from inadequate to good rapidly. The full findings of this inspection can be found here.

An Improvement Action Plan was developed in response to the Ofsted improvement recommendations, and submitted to Ofsted in October 2017. Ofsted confirmed that the plan satisfactorily reflected the recommendations and priorities of the inspection report.

In November 2017, Ofsted conducted their first monitoring visit of Children’s Services, which focussed on the ‘front door’ arrangements in the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and the Duty & Assessment Teams. The inspectors noted evidence of improving quality assurance processes. It was also evident that there had been productive engagement with the local authority’s improvement partner and that additional resources had been secured to increase capacity within the service. The pace of change had been consistent and focused, and had started to raise practice standards. However, social work practice remained inadequate in many areas.

A three month review of children’s services was undertaken by the Children’s Commissioner for Barnet Council, Frankie Sulke, in response to the July Ofsted report that found children’s services to be inadequate. The report, published in January 2018, concluded with a recommendation to the Minister of State for Children & Families that Barnet Council should retain control of children’s social care services, with Essex County Council acting as its improvement leadership partner to oversee the delivery of the council’s improvement plan for the service.  The report also recommended that further Commissioner advice be sought on whether alternative arrangements are necessary after the suggested model has been in operation for at least six months. The Commissioner’s report can be found here.

The Minister of State for Children and Families subsequently reviewed the report. In his letter to the Council on 20 December 2017, the Minister outlined that the Commissioner’s findings provide sufficient evidence to support her conclusion that Barnet Council should retain control of children’s social care services. The statutory direction can be found here.

The 2nd Ofsted monitoring visit in January 2018 focused on a number of areas of work, including the effectiveness of the council’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), and the quality and timeliness of certain assessments and management oversight and decision making of case work. Ofsted inspectors acknowledged that Barnet was “continuing to progress and consolidate recent improvements”, with senior leaders and managers “appropriately focused to improve and embed good quality social work practice”. The full findings can be found here.

The 3rd Ofsted monitoring visit took place in April 2018 and focused on reviewing the work of a number of teams in relation to vulnerable adolescents. The findings acknowledged that while challenges remain, the council was consolidating the improvements already made, with the pace of change remaining consistent and focused, and with the quality of social work practice slowly improving. The full findings can be found here.

In June 2018 a revised direction was issued by the DfE following a review of the effectiveness of the intervention approach undertaken in May 2018 by the Commissioner for Children’s Services in Barnet. This revised direction requires Barnet council to continue to take steps to improve its children’s social care services, including co-operating with the DfE appointed children’s services improvement advisers, Essex county council. Barnet will support the chair of the improvement board to report to the Secretary of State on a quarterly basis. The revised direction can be found here.

The 4th Ofsted monitoring visit took place in July/August 2018 and inspectors reviewed the progress made for children looked after across the Children in care and Intervention and planning teams. Ofsted found that the local authority has maintained a consistent and strong focus on improving services and the quality of social work practice. They found that an appropriate and steady pace of change in the last year had begun to establish improved social work practice for looked after children. The findings also highlighted that the council had acknowledged improvements were still inconsistent and require further consolidation across all teams before practice is of a good standard. The full findings of the 4th visit, can be found here.

The 5th Ofsted monitoring visit focussed on the progress made in help and protection services, including the effectiveness of the council’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) in responding to concerns about children. Ofsted found that the social work practice considered during the visit had been further “consolidated and improved” since the previous visit carried out to assess ‘front door’ services. Inspectors concluded that there was strong practice in the MASH, with decisions being made that were timely and well informed to ensure children were appropriately safeguarded. They did however acknowledge that the quality of some assessments and plans could be improved. Ofsted found that senior managers were fully aware and have clearly identified where social work practice has improved, as well as those areas for further development. The full findings of the 5th visit can be found here.

The 6th Ofsted and final monitoring visit took place in February 2019, where inspectors focused on the quality of practice in the care leaver’s service. In its findings, Ofsted highlighted the focus being put into improving the council’s Onwards and Upwards service which works to support care leavers. This included the service’s office base being developed with feedback and participation from young people to make sure it is welcoming and child-centred, and so that young people can drop in on a regular basis. Inspectors went on to say that high levels of consistent, regular and skilled planning was helping to achieve positive outcomes for young people, but acknowledged that some challenges remain. The full findings of the 6th visit can be found here.

We are now preparing for a full inspection, which we expect to happen sometime later this year.

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