Children’s services in Calderdale are “good” with some “outstanding” features say Ofsted inspectors – a landmark moment for the local authority.
Eight years ago Calderdale Council’s Children’s Services were in special measures and even after five years’ hard work still required improvement in 2015 when they were re-inspected.
But putting children themselves at the heart of policy and supporting confident staff to provide them with a safe and productive environment in which they are “able to flourish” has produced great improvements, inspectors say.
The council’s Chief Executive, Robin Tuddenham, said achieving this standard and aiming for higher was crucially important for the borough.
Personally, he said, “Alongside the opening of the Piece Hall this is the must important thing.
“This is saying there is hopefully a good future for our children.”
This time around the only category which still required improvement was Children Who Need Help and Protection – inspectors’ comments were mostly good about this part of the service but wanted to see child protection teams making key decisions themselves without necessarily consulting with other partners in detail, and when making interventions be clearer about what social workers and police needed to do.
Director of Children’s Services Julie Jenkins said that since inspectors spent three intensive weeks in Calderdale in November to compile their report, the relevant improvements had already been made.
She said staff were delighted Calderdale was rated “outstanding” in the Children In Care category, the highest rating and rising from the lowest rating of “inadequate” the authority received for this in 2015.
Echoing the rising quality of the service across the board – rated as “good” – the report praised the council’s teams who placed the vulnerable children at the centre of the service.
“The report said our children are surrounded by exceptional, committed and caring staff.
“It says the child is at the centre of the decisions being made and they have an enduring relationship with devoted, skilled and determined social workers,” she said.
Improvements in permanency – when children stay in care – in areas including fostering and adoption saw inspectors find these aspects of the service “exceptional”, and there for the children 24 hours a day, said Ms Jenkins.
“It’s just glowing about what they think about what we do for our children, what they think about the service.
“Young people said they felt they were treated like a family in Calderdale.
“I would describe that part of the service as the real jewel in the crown,” she said.
Strong leadership and management – rated “good” by inspectors – underpinned this in terms of both officer leadership and political leadership including Leader of the Council Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town) and Cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services Coun Megan Swift (Lab, Town), the report indicated.
Ms Jenkins said: “The report says that overall staff feel safe working here, are very well supported, have good training and good supervision from managers.
“Ultimately it is a leadership team who know our children well and are ambitious for them to do well. They said we really listened to them and involved them in everything we do.”
The report spoke about a culture of reflection, learning and action in the service, but Calderdale would not be resting on any laurels.
Coun Tim Swift said the report demonstrated the council was doing the right thing – and needed to keep doing the right thing.
At a time when council budgets were under severe pressure, investment in children’s services had been protected.
It had been a massive commitment but developing policies such as early intervention and getting the best social workers – although retaining them when improved salary or promotion offers from other authorities came in was still a challenge – had driven improvements.
“This is a major milestone on what has been a long journey for the council and for Children’s Services and we are extremely proud of the team.
“Their commitment throughout this process has been outstanding, particularly at a time of unprecedented demand and financial pressure on the service,” he said.
Coun Megan Swift said: “Our goal has always been to ensure that all of our children and young people are able to achieve their potential, regardless of their circumstances.
“Some of the findings of this report were extremely moving, particularly the comments from our children who are looked after by the council.
“I know that this will mean a great deal to the team and to our senior leadership team and I thank them for their relentless commitment to improvement, their care and their passion for the service.”
Ms Jenkins, who aims to build on the sterling work done by Stuart Smith, who led both children’s and adults social services for six years until his retirement in September, said some members of her team had been there at the lowest point in 2010 and been part of the hard work and commitment that had produced improvements since.
“This is a fantastic achievement for the team and I have personally thanked everyone for all their hard work.
“We’re delighted by the outcome of this inspection and we are extremely proud and touched by the comments from our young people.
“We are fully committed to continuing our improvement journey as we want the very best for all our children and young people.
“And we will continue to work closely with our partners locally and share best practice with our colleagues in the sector,” she said.