Central Bedfordshire social care services maintain 'good' Ofsted rating following latest inspection

Council credited for showing 'strengths and improvements'

Social care services provided to children and families in Central Bedfordshire have been rated 'good' again by Ofsted, after an inspection in January.

Ofsted credited Central Bedfordshire Council for showing "strengths and improvements across its full range of children’s social work practice" in a report published on March 4.

The inspection focused on vital services aimed at children, young people and families, according to the local authority.

Central Beds Council HQ

This included "the experiences of children who need help and protection, and the progress of those who are in care, or who have left care".

The areas assessed 'good' by Ofsted were:

impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families;

the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection;

the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers;

and the overall effectiveness of CBC's services.

"In some discrete areas, practice isn't rigorous enough to ensure that the needs and welfare of all children remain paramount," Ofsted warned.

"In particular, there is a lack of thoroughness in response to some initial contacts and in some children’s cases where child protection investigations don't lead to a child protection conference.

"Some children don't progress through the pre-proceedings stage of the public law outline (PLO) at a pace that's right for them.

"A small number remain too long in neglectful situations without their needs being prioritised and met."

The inspection from January 17 to 21 sets out three areas for improvement:

the appraisal of information, to inform decision-making about contacts and child protection inquiries to ensure children receive the support they need at the earliest opportunity;

the timeliness, oversight and effective use of the pre-proceedings stage of the PLO to drive progress and make improvements at sufficient pace for the child;

and the consistency in recording key decisions and changes in children’s plans on case records.

But it recognises "leaders have created a strength-based culture, with ongoing investment in early help and extra family support services, enabling families to access help, often without the need for statutory intervention".

The report said: "Strengths and improvements are evident across the full range of social work practice. The local authority has sustained effective services for children in need of help and protection.

"Support for children in care and care leavers is now better than at the last inspection, with support for care leavers particularly strong.

"Changes since the last inspection within the senior leadership team have been managed seamlessly, minimising disruption to services.

"A skilled and well-trained workforce continues to be a key strength. That stability means that children benefit from workers who know them well and help to support positive changes in their lives.

"This crucial support has continued throughout the past two years of Covid-19. Leaders and workers have a good understanding of its impact, and the difficulties children and families have faced.

"They've adapted their responses well, recognising that for some children and young people life has felt less safe," it added.

"The support provided, in particular addressing children’s mental health needs and assisting care leavers, has helped children and young people and their families to cope better during this difficult period."

The report builds on the previous 'good' rating that CBC achieved in 2017, the local authority said in a statement.

"While the council has maintained the same overall rating, inspectors have acknowledged the significant improvements in specific areas," it added.

Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark, who is Executive Member for Families, Education & Children, said: "Ensuring that children are safe and that families have access to the right support as early as possible is an absolute priority for us.

“Sometimes children do need our care and protection. When that happens we've great social work services which pay attention to providing an environment where they're cared for and can thrive.

"I was also delighted our good work supporting our care experienced young people to successfully become independent adults was also reflected in the Ofsted report.

“In addition to highlighting areas where we have maintained or improved good practice, the inspectors have provided valuable feedback on how we can develop our services further and we welcome this guidance.

"We'll take on board the findings from the report and will continue to strengthen these important services," added councillor Clark.