Cambridgeshire County Council’s children’s services are improving but concerns remain, say Ofsted
Services for children in care are improving in Cambridgeshire, but problems remain over the number of carers, access to healthcare and staffing, Ofsted has said.
Inspectors visited Cambridgeshire County Council’s children’s services over two days in February and published their findings on Thursday (March 5).
It found both positives and negatives for the service after a full inspection last year found it mostly “requires improvement”.
The report gives no official grading, but will inform the next full inspection and highlights issues and improvements in the service.
“While there have been some recent improvements, children are still not getting timely initial health assessments when they come into care in order to ensure that any existing health needs are met,” the inspectors said.
The report said “some children and their carers are being let down” when it comes to mental health provision, while noting staff are aware of the issue and are restructuring the “fragmented” service.
“Still too many of Cambridgeshire’s children in care live in placements which are outside the county and a long way from their families and friends,” the report adds.
The number of carers is rising, but “the local authority still does not have enough foster carers or placements in Cambridgeshire with the right skills, knowledge and experience or the cultural match to meet children’s presenting needs”.
As a result social workers “face additional pressures from spending much of their time travelling around the country to visit children in their placements”.
But the report also makes a number of positive observations, and describes a service which is steadily improving in a number of areas.
Inspectors said: “Most children live in good quality placements with carers who meet their needs and make a positive difference to their lives.”
Summarising the visit, inspectors said: “Senior leaders have focused on addressing the actions highlighted for improvement in the last inspection.
“They fully understand both service strengths and areas for development and they have worked systematically, together with their partners, to drive up the quality of social work practice.
“The local authority is able to demonstrate improvements in services for children in care which have positively impacted on their experiences and progress.”
Ofsted said it gave the county council five days’ notice of the visit, as per its standard procedure.
Cambridgeshire County Council said in a statement: “Ofsted undertook a focused visit in February, providing a snapshot of the strengths and areas for development of our services for children in care.
“We welcome their findings we have made improvements to drive up the quality of social work practice across Cambridgeshire. Successful recruitment campaigns have meant we now have more high quality social workers who go the extra mile to help support children and bring greater stability to their lives.
“This means that our social workers have much more time to have more meaningful relationships with the children they support so they can have a positive impact on their lives. While we continue to have a small number of social work vacancies, we have a clear plan in place to recruit to these vacancies.
“We know that we still have more to do, but the position is much improved since the time of the last inspection in January 2019. The work of our staff, leaders and managers will continue to see an improving service over the coming months.
“Ofsted also recognised the significant investment the council has made in transforming our case management system in recent months, enabling us to improve outcomes for young people and develop best practice.
“We recognise there are always improvements that we can make and we will work to implement Ofsted’s recommendations, including doing more to involve children in decisions about the services that support them and improving the consistency of case recording. Our main priority is to always ensure that children in care receive good quality support giving them the potential to thrive.
“We agree that we need more foster carers in Cambridgeshire to provide loving homes for vulnerable Cambridgeshire children and young people, but also recognise that there is a national shortage of foster carers.
“We have invested in local recruitment campaigns and activity to help us find more foster carers and we are always looking for people who want to transform the lives of children by becoming a foster carer.
“If you think you could help local vulnerable children, please contact Cambridgeshire Fostering on 0800 052 0078, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit cambridgeshire.gov.uk/fostering. Allowances are paid to all foster carers and we would love to hear from you.”