East Sussex County Council has become one of few local authorities to have achieved the highest possible rating for its work with vulnerable families following an inspection which focused on front-line staff.
For the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, and the impact of leaders on social work practice, the authority has been rated ‘outstanding’, while the experiences of children who needed help and protection is deemed to be ‘good’.
Cllr Sylvia Tidy, the council’s lead member for children and families, and elected representative for Crowborough South and St Johns, said:
To be rated outstanding is testament to the commitment and dedication of all of our staff, and I would like to thank them all for the fantastic work they do often in difficult and sometimes heart-breaking situations.”
The report highlights the high standards set by East Sussex leaders and culture created which inspires talented social workers to stay in the county and allows effective social work to “flourish”.
For James, it was this approach that helped him turn his life around after his drug addiction lead to all four of his children being put into care.
When social workers were saying ‘we are here to help you’, I didn’t listen. But I wish I had known years ago how it could be.
I would not be the father I am today if it hadn’t been for the support from social services. Things have never been better and I know I have social services to thank for that.
After spending nine months in a treatment centre and receiving intensive individual support and counselling and parenting work, James now lives with his two eldest children, while his partner has the two younger siblings.
Care leaver Seb has also benefitted from the “connected practice” approach from first entering the care system at 14 to today, where he is supported as he starts a law degree. He said:
I’ve had ups and downs, I battled with depression and anxiety, but the one constant in my life has been social services and it has been a really positive experience.
Social workers in East Sussex do go above and beyond and the personal connection is so important. When I came into the care system, I was a bit of a mess and I have got to where I’ve got to because of their support.
The last inspection of the service in 2014 resulted in a ‘good’ rating, with experiences and progress of care leavers ‘requiring improvement’.
Inspectors commented that since that visit the “highly committed senior and political leadership” had “sustained determined and detailed oversight of practice” while working creatively with partners to respond to the changing needs of the service. Ofsted South East Director, Chris Russell said:
I am delighted that East Sussex has not only continued to improve but has gone a step further to provide outstanding support for children and their families in the county.
Leaders and managers have successfully established a culture where social workers are nurtured and developed. This has helped them to retain a stable and talented workforce, with very few agency staff employed. Some children have had the same social worker for many years. The importance that the local authority places on their front line staff has been recognised nationally, with the council receiving a silver award for employer of the year in the 2017 national social work awards.
Social workers and managers in all parts of the service think about, plan and secure the best permanent care for children at the earliest opportunity. In East Sussex, permanent placement is ‘simply what is expected for all children’.
I want to congratulate leaders, managers, social workers and personal advisers for their strong drive and commitment to providing the best support for children and families that always puts them first.
Possible areas of improvement highlighted in the report include making correspondence more accessible when legal proceedings are being considered, and improved recording of manager’s rationale for timescales agreed for completing family assessments.
The full report can be viewed on the Ofsted website at https://reports.beta.ofsted.gov.uk/provider/44/80467