Last week an independent review was published into Children’s Social Care. The report is a highly detailed, 250-page document which we are digesting, in terms of what the policy recommendations means for us as a local authority, a service provider and corporate parent.

This white paper will have an impact on our improvement journey as we strive to build on the success of our recent landmark Ofsted judgement, which recognised our children’s services as being ‘Good’ in all four areas of the inspection. It follows years of underperforming and being graded as ‘Inadequate’ – an achievement highlighted as a “remarkable transformation” by inspectors.

Just as we transformed our services, this independent review calls for a radical reset of children’s services on a national scale which it says is now unavoidable.

The Author of the report, Josh MacAlister, states that there will be around 100,000 children in care by this time in a decade unless there is a dramatic whole system reset.

Rethinking the way that Torbay Council approached the challenges we faced in our children’s services departments formed an important part of our own improvement journey.

Councillor Cordelia Law, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “We started to view the challenges as the whole council’s responsibility – not just those working in Children’s Services. Our commitment to our role as a corporate parent has captured the hearts and minds of many of our staff. It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep children and young people safe.

“I am pleased that the white paper emphasises the importance of supporting families to stay together safely by adopting an early intervention approach.  Ofsted noted a radical transformation and development of our Early Help Services which help reduce harm and promote children’s welfare by providing support before problems escalate. “

Highlighted as a national issue is the rising number of children living in independent residential care provisions. Tackling this has been a priority of ours, we have taken a proactive approach to recruiting local foster carers and working alongside them to provide safe and loving permanent homes for vulnerable children, whilst allowing them to stay in the community they are familiar with. With a strong foster carer network, we are not reliant of costly residential care.

The national report also recognises that there is pay back from investing into the system. It claims that after seven years the money invested will result in fewer children entering into care.

Councillor Steve Darling, Leader of Torbay Council, saidChildren’s services makes up more than a third of Torbay Council’s overall budget and so future proofing the financial stability of this service has been key to our long term success. As someone who is adopted myself and in recent years found my birth family, making Children’s Services in Torbay “outstanding” is close to my heart.”

Councillor Darren Cowell, Deputy Leader of Torbay Council, said “This Partnership Administration has tackled the challenges in Children’s Services head on. We are now seeing positive outcomes for our children and young people and a budget that is more controlled. 

“The percentage of costly front-line agency staff we use has fallen sharply because we have attracted more people to come and work with us. Our proactive approach to the recruitment and retention of talented social workers as recognised by Ofsted inspectors has been pivotal in achieving this goal.

“This financial astuteness has, in turn, released resources which we have been able to invest in our community.”

All in all there is still lots to consider in this report.

Nancy Meehan, Director Children’s Services said: “It is good to see some of the recommendations relate to challenges that we as a council have already identified and addressed and have received recognition from Ofsted inspectors for embedding. For example, improved workforce knowledge and skills, strong multi-agency working and our focus on early intervention.

“However, they only form a fraction of the detail in this white paper report, and we are still digesting all the recommendations before considering our full response.”

This report sets out a vision for improving outcomes for some of the most vulnerable children and young people in society.  It is important that children’s social care remains high on the national agenda and is supported with the resources necessary to help children and families thrive.

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