We have been shortlisted as a finalist in the Children’s Services category of the LGC Awards 2021. The award recognises the success of councils that adopt a genuinely strategic approach to this vital service area in the face of extraordinary challenges.

Our entry, which you can read below, sets out how through investing in our workforce, stakeholders, politicians and processes we have secured sustainable improvement.

We’ll find out if we’ve won at the Awards Ceremony in November.

We’re incredibly proud to have been shortlisted as we continue towards our vision of a Child and Family Friendly Torbay.

Innovation and Delivery at Times of Adversity - The rebirth of an achieving Torbay Children’s Service


Torbay Children’s Services have been drifting for almost a decade without effective grip on the tiller of quality and delivery. Our bid charts a process of sophisticated analysis and prioritisation, and skilled, innovative delivery which has overcome an unsustainable financial position. A demoralised workforce, stakeholders and politicians who needed convincing that the actions described in the paper amounted to anything other than another false dawn fuelled by hope and eloquent rhetoric are now ‘on side’. We argue that by equally investing in our workforce, stakeholders, politicians and processes we have secured sustainable improvement which we can confidently commend to you.


Government intervention, unsustainable budget overspend, and COVID-19 are not immediately considered words that form the springboard for rapid, sustainable change that engages and develops staff, partners, politicians and services on a journey of improvement to transform the experiences of Torbay’s children and families who receive services. We do not claim that the journey has been smooth. Our task has been to make sure we negotiated the bumps and avoided potholes that would damage the wheels of improvement.

Given a hard hitting but largely accurate Ofsted Inspection Report, we started by recognizing that we had a major problem and accepting that after 10 years of mediocrity, children had a right to expect more. As one politician succinctly said, “enough was enough”.

This shared understanding galvanized the response supported by a vision articulating a desire to improve every aspect of service but was realistic enough to recognize that we first needed to ensure children were protected while driving change in measured ways by (1) engaging, re-energising and upskilling the workforce, (2) significantly improving our performance management and quality assurance capability and (3) instilling confidence in our workforce, politicians and partners that this was not another false dawn characterised by unrealistic ambition. For the purposes of task management, we adopted a phased approach to change and improvement.

Phase 1: The exciting but scary bit

A rapid review of cases revealed where our safeguarding/protection focus needed to be. In response, our management cadre was centrally involved in oversight that initially required considerable ‘acting down’, a process which also gave valuable insight into our workforce development needs. Our workforce, strengthened data sets and a re-designed and systematic audit process were telling us that we had no consistency of approach to our work with children, and so following consultation and research we adopted a Restorative Model and implemented a programme of formally training our complete workforce and many partners. This immediately began to strengthen our approach to Early Help implementation and prevention, a process that continues, helped by a re-alignment of the organizational structure to ensure synergy between services to children and the specialisms of the teams delivering them. It is entirely consistent with a mantra voiced by Nigel Richardson, our then Improvement Board Chair and Commissioner, who encouraged us to “do necessary things well in the knowledge that confidence will increase with better outcomes, and the traction of improvement will take firm hold”.

In parallel, we completed a comprehensive diagnostic review of the service which also graphically highlighted where we had to focus, not least on an unsustainable and annually growing (over)spend on cared for children fuelled by an avoidable overuse of care and significant reliance on residential care in the absence of viable alternatives.

Phase 2: The hard miles

The implementation of our Improvement and Sufficiency Plans gave a focus to our actions. Developing and recruiting to a skilled in-house fostering service gave us opportunity to reduce our reliance on residential care and high-cost independent fostering providers. Revised processes to manage demand for care in parallel to establishing Early Help and Edge of Care services safely reduced use of care solutions. For those children who could not return home following scrutiny by exacting processes of assessment, panel presentations and positive use of legal gateway, a policy of achieving permanence took firm hold and almost 100 children have been long term matched to their care givers. Our commitment to family-based solutions has increased our number of connected carers, a significant proportion of whom have become Special Guardians.

A focus on our care experienced young people and a drive to ensure that they progress to a successful young adulthood is underway with a focus on preparation for independence in affordable and suitable accommodation. A re-invigorated Corporate Parenting Board and a clear strategic alliance with commissioners and housing providers is established and is determined to further expand the offer.

Phase 3: The building blocks

Like any service rebuilding, the greatest asset is the workforce, which is required to be skilled, resilient and stable. We all know social care is not an easy environment for recruitment and so we have invested in a Learning Academy to enable us to ‘grow our own’, to take advantage of the opportunity to oversee the professional development of newly qualified professionals and to continue the development of our most experienced and skilled practitioners and managers. Linking with universities and seats of learning, we are making the academy a national leader in workforce development and a key player in our retention ambition.

Phase 4: Logging our achievements

It is not arrogant to log and validate progress. The workforce can lose sight of the journey that has been travelled and taking stock is affirming while offering a constructive challenge in readiness for the next phase of improvement.

Children have benefited from

  • Less use of residential provision (46 to 20)
  • increased number and use of in-house foster carers (162 places)
  • placement stability in line with or exceeding comparators (10.6% for short term and 66% long term)
  • reduced proportion (6%) of high-cost placements out of Torbay
  • expanded use of Connected Carers (increased by 50%)
  • successful establishment of our Edge of Care Team that has worked with 36 children, 32 of whom have continued to be supported to live in their communities
  • the implementation of Early Help and Youth Homelessness strategies that has created a network of provision
  • a workforce trained in Restorative Practice
  • a Learning Academy to train and develop 34 newly qualified social workers.

We are not suggesting that this progress is exhaustive or has been easy but shared ambition, articulated goals and support for the workforce from managers, senior leaders, partners and politicians has measurably improved children’s lives; progress that has been endorsed by Ofsted in their recent Focused Visit. Although not the sole driver, it has also produced anticipated savings of between £2.7m and £3.5m over the next three years which is highly welcome in this financial climate.