West Sussex children's services improving - but progress in some areas 'too slow'

Children’s services in West Sussex have continued to improve, Ofsted has reported – though progress in some areas is ‘too slow’.
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Inspectors carried out a monitoring visit in September – the fifth since the county council was judged ‘inadequate’ in 2019.

The visit focused on the quality of social work practice to support and protect vulnerable children and young people and the effectiveness of child-in-need and child protection plans.

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In her report, inspector Tracey Scott said: “The experienced, committed and stable senior leadership team has a clear vision for ongoing improvement and the service benefits from strong corporate and political support.

County Hall Chichester. Pic S Robards SR2105051County Hall Chichester. Pic S Robards SR2105051
County Hall Chichester. Pic S Robards SR2105051

“Senior leaders have a clear vision and practitioners are excited by the recent implementation of a social work practice model.”

That practice model was blamed for a dip in performance in the spring, while challenges with the turnover of agency staff and the ‘relentless’ recruitment of permanent social workers led to another dip in the summer.

The report said: “Some children are unallocated to a worker while awaiting an assessment, or during subsequent intervention, as a result of staff shortages.

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“The quality and impact of social work intervention are variable, although some practice is strong.

“Too many children experience changes of social workers, and they are waiting too long for assessment and to receive the support that they need.

“Some plans for children in need of protection end prematurely at the first review.”

On the positive side, inspectors said they saw ‘many examples of purposeful, creative direct work with children and their families’ from social workers.

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Parents and children said they felt listened to with one describing their social worker as ‘absolutely amazing’ and making a real difference for her family.

When it came to child protection, youngsters who spoke to inspectors were ‘overwhelmingly positive’ about their experience with their advocate.

Comments included ‘he tells my part’ and ‘is massively helpful…shares my point’.

Jacquie Russell, the council’s cabinet member for children & young people, said: “Everyone in our children’s services teams is committed to putting children first and building strong relationships with our children, young people, and their families.

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“This is at the heart of everything we do and a core part of our Council Plan.

“We actively support more than 5,500 vulnerable children and young people and have made significant progress over the last few years to redesign and improve our services, with a determination to provide the standard of service our communities deserve.

“So, it’s encouraging to see that Ofsted has recognised the progress we’re making and highlighted areas where we need to maintain our focus.”

Mrs Russell added: “I am very conscious of the need to increase the pace of our improvement work, which is impacted by the increased demand and complexity of cases we’re managing.

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“Recruiting to our teams remains a priority and I’m pleased to say that, following an overseas recruitment drive last month, we are looking forward to welcoming 36 new social workers to West Sussex in the new year.

“They will bring their knowledge, expertise, and experience, and provide much-needed support to help us deliver the best service to our children, young people and families.

“I would like to express my personal thanks to staff across the council’s children’s services who work tirelessly to put children first.”