West Sussex children’s services making steady progress but ‘a lot still to do’

Improvements to children’s services in West Sussex are making ‘steady progress’, an Ofsted inspector has said – but there is still a long way to go.

In May, inspectors carried out their second monitoring visit of the service since it was judged inadequate in 2019.

The visit was conducted remotely, using video calls for discussions with social workers, managers, leaders and partners.

In a letter to Lucy Butler, the county council’s director of children’s services, dated June 23, inspector Tracey Scott praised the progress made so far.

County Hall Chichester. Pic S Robards SR2105051 SUS-210505-160522001

She said: “Senior leaders have a realistic self-evaluation and clear understanding of how to improve.

“They have a good understanding of the weaknesses in the service and have a clear and coherent plan to focus on the necessary improvements.

“A permanent senior leadership team is helping to build stability and consistency across the service.

“Senior leaders are ambitious and determined to improve services for children in West Sussex but recognise there is a lot still to do.”

Ms Scott highlighted a number of shortfalls within the service where that ‘clear and coherent plan’ will be needed.

Case-loads for social workers in some parts of the service were found to be still too high, while some children were given a change of social worker too many times.

Other youngsters were reported to have lived in ‘circumstances of chronic neglect for too long’ before authoritative decisions were made about their needs and future arrangements for care.

And others were found to have been left in ‘unregulated or unlawful placements’ for extended periods.

The letter said: “There remains too much inconsistency in the quality and impact of assessments, plans, management oversight and supervision, which hinders the timely progression of children’s plans.

“A lack of clarity and understanding about practice and procedures in front-line teams and delays in the progression of specific family and friends-related assessments and care proceedings have led to some children living with friends and family carers in unregulated or unlawful placements for extended periods of time.”

There were plenty of positives to the inspector’s letter.

Most youngsters were found to be living in homes where they were doing well and their needs were being met.

There were early signs that the consistency and quality of support was improving as well as ‘improvement and focus’ in the way children’s life stories were put together.

The letter said: “Children adopted since 2018 now have life story books and later life letters to help them understand their history and identity.

Inspectors saw some good examples of colourful, accessible life story books and creative direct work with children to help them understand their histories and the decisions made for them.”

Jacquie Russell, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Achieving stable and long-lasting homes for children and young people is of paramount importance to us.

“This report is reassuring and shows we are making positive progress in this area of the service.

“The report identifies other areas that require further improvement and acknowledges that our senior leaders have a good understanding of these areas and have a clear and coherent plan in place as part of our ongoing improvement journey.

“I would like to thank all our staff for their ongoing hard work and commitment as we work towards providing the best service to our vulnerable children, young people and families.”