'Inadequate' children's services in Luton could improve by one grade at next Ofsted visit
Children's services in Luton rated 'Inadequate by Ofsted are unlikely to be graded 'Good' or 'Outstanding' when it inspects the council's performance again, a meeting heard.
Steady progress is a more likely verdict with a potential 'Requires Improvement' outcome, the local authority's scrutiny children's services review group was told.
The council expects its next Ofsted visit between April and June, when a decision is due on whether another full inspection can be conducted.
The local authority's children services were rated inadequate overall, after a ten-day inspection in January 2020, despite £17.5m being invested across placements and staffing over the previous six years.
"Ofsted's next step, which we expect to be a focused assurance visit, was due to happen around now," explained service director quality and Improvement Damian Elcock.
"With the impact of the third lockdown, Ofsted has reviewed its timetables of planned work, so we anticipate that happening between April and June.
"It's still imminent and something we're intensively preparing for, as the outcome of that visit will decide whether we continue with the series of monitoring visits which inadequate authorities have.
"Or whether in the last 15 months we've made sufficient progress for a new full inspection to determine whether we remain as inadequate or have done enough to be deemed requires improvement or good."
The review group was receiving an update on the council's children's services improvement plan.
"We're not going to see overnight our grading go up to good or outstanding," warned service director children’s operations Allison Parkinson.
"We're going to see a steady improvement, and that's what we're aiming for."
Conservative Icknield councillor Jeff Petts asked: "Do you get many children absconding?"
"Yes, we do," she replied. "We have a weekly missing meeting covering children who are missing from home or from education.
"They'll have a return to home interview, with an opportunity to speak to someone independently, in case there's something going on in their care arrangements they're not happy about.
"It's an issue especially with teenagers. All agencies are alerted to those missing episodes."
Liberal Democrat Wigmore councillor Dave Chapman enquired about the number of social workers currently.
"The number in post is 193, with 16 unfilled, so 209 qualified social workers altogether," according to Mr Elcock.
"We have 141 permanent staff and 52 agency staff currently," he explained.
"After the inspection in January 2020 and the disappointing outcome, we did a lot of work to review our audit process, such as how we quality ensure the practice in individual cases.
"There's a more collaborative process between the team manager and the frontline worker, and the audits are then moderated by someone totally independent from the case.
"It also involves engagement with the parents and children and young people in each case, to get some feedback from them of their experience of the practice.
"The relaunched Luton foster care association is now fully functional, which is part of a comprehensive fostering improvement plan.
"Substantial work has been done on our case management system where workers record their interactions with families and their case notes," he added.
"We've doubled the number of newly qualified social workers and developed a buddying system, with increased support of experienced social workers.
"The number of agency social workers needed to maintain our service delivery levels has reduced because of recruitment and retention of staff."