Agenda item

Update - Ofsted Monitoring Visit

The Interim Executive Director of Children’s Services will be in attendance to provide the Panel with an update in relation to the Ofsted monitoring visit carried out 1-2 November 2022.


C Sowerby, Director of Children’s Care, was in attendance at the meeting to provide the Panel with an update in relation to the findings of the most recent Ofsted Monitoring Visit to Children’s Services.


Ofsted had undertaken a sixth monitoring visit to Middlesbrough’s Children’s Services on 1 and 2 November 2022 with a focus on older children leaving care and care leavers.


The findings provided clarity on areas where progress had been made since the initial full inspection and areas requiring improvement.  The Panel was advised that some of the areas for improvement identified had already been acted upon and further actions had been added to the Improvement Plan.


The issues identified included:-




·        Since the last inspection, services for older children in care and care leavers had started to improve.


·        Most older children who were approaching leaving care were supported to develop the necessary independence skills needed to live alone.


·        Care leavers told inspectors that most of them had experienced a positive transition from care, including that they had been well supported by their social workers and their personal advisors.


·        Regular contact was maintained with most children and care leavers, with care leavers making use of the dedicated social media messenger page to stay in touch.


·        Independent advocates were offered to children and care leavers, and they had been actively involved in supporting them with their issues and concerns.


·        Those children and care leavers who benefitted from the supported living accommodation and the bespoke children’s home were well supported to prepare for independent living.  Staff provided them with opportunities to develop life skills and promoted resilience in preparation for living alone. It was clear that they had established trusting relationships with support staff who were attuned to their needs. It was a real positive that those children and care leavers who talked to inspectors, and who lived in those homes, were all either in education or work.


·        Return home interviews after children had been missing were undertaken in a timely way and information from the child or care staff provided a helpful insight to understand risk. Children had appropriate safety plans and oversight from the vulnerable exploited missing and trafficked (VEMT) Panel.  Consequently, children had reduced their missing episodes as well as their risks in the community.


Areas for Improvement


·        Transition planning for some children had not been as effective as it should have been. As a result, a small number of care leavers described: feeling rushed when moving out of care and this had resulted in a small number remaining as children in care post-18 due to a lack of planning with continued support in accommodation.


·        Some young people stated they needed more financial support to enable them to buy food and pay their energy bills.  Plans were in place to ensure the right level of support was in place.


·        Needs assessments and the resulting Pathway plans varied in quality.  Most plans required tighter target setting/smarter focus, however, the better plans and assessments included the clear voice of the child and care leaver and were written to them. This meant that children and care leavers were very clear about their rights and entitlements.


·        Contingency planning was mostly absent or entirely focused on the breakdown of living arrangements rather than a holistic view of the child and care leavers and their circumstances.


·        The Pathways Team did not always demonstrate sufficient curiosity and challenge about the care leaver’s holistic needs.  Managers acknowledged this was an area for development. In addition, some newer members of the team did not receive the frequency of supervision and type of support that they would benefit from to develop themselves and progress their understanding of the work.


·        Whilst most personal advisors talked enthusiastically about their care leavers, and described ‘stickability’ with them, this did not always translate into direct action which was promoting young people’s safeguarding and well-being. Risk for some care leavers was not always recognised in a timely way.


Next Steps


Based on Ofsted’s findings, an Action Plan was being developed to address the areas identified as requiring further improvement and changes had been made to the improvement plan.  A focused audit was planned for March 2023 to check on progress.


One of the key areas for improvement was housing for care leavers, particularly in relation to the suitability of housing offered to care leavers and the locations in which properties were situated.   Greater thought was needed around replicating the same opportunities for care leavers as other young people – for example, very few 16-18 year olds left the family home to go and live on their own – consideration of how the young person wanted to live, perhaps with friends/shared tenancy, etc. 


In addition to providing more choice for care leavers about where they lived, development of a more holistic support package was underway to help support the transition to independence, including support with health, education and employment, understanding financial demands such as energy bills, food and travel costs and cost of living pressures.  This might include practical strategies such as financial support with food and energy bills and Council Tax.  At the present time, as part of the current Care Leaver Offer, Middlesbrough’s Care Leavers benefitted from a Council Tax exemption but this only applied to those living in Middlesbrough, putting those who lived outside of Middlesbrough at a disadvantage.  As a priority, development of a regional care leaver’s offer would be examined to ensure consistent support to a young person regardless of where they lived within the region. 


Work was ongoing around young people in custody to ensure that the right links with the Youth Offending Service and prisons was in place to ensure Personal Advisers kept in touch and visited the young person when they were released from prison as this was another key transition back into the community.


Partnership working was seen as key to developing an improved offer of support for care leavers and there was a desire to strengthen partnership working with education, health and housing colleagues, amongst others, to drive this forward.  It was hoped that a physical building could be provided for care leavers to utilise at evenings and weekends to meet, eat, socialise with their peers, do their washing, etc.  It was important for all partners to commit to progressing this as corporate parents.


As well as requiring practical support, it was recognised that many young people and care leavers had lived experience of trauma so it was also important to support their mental and emotional health and well-being.


During the course of discussion, the following issues were raised:-


·        Members expressed some concerns regarding the Ofsted findings particularly in relation to some children living in unregulated children’s homes and some young people feeling rushed into leaving their placements.  The Director advised that in terms of unregulated placements, some children’s homes were regulated and others may have recently been established and not yet registered as this could take quite some time.  Those that were unregistered would be the subject of additional scrutiny through risk assessments and visits to ensure everything was as it should be. 


·        In relation to some young people feeling unprepared or rushed into independent living, the Director stated that it was important to gather feedback from a range of different young people to gain a better understanding of any issues and problems that they might have experienced.  In some instances it may be that the young person did not want to live alone or did not want to live in the location offered to them and had not been offered alternative opportunities.  It was important to work with partners to ensure these issues were addressed.  In addition, work was underway in conjunction with the Participation Team to look at how Corporate Parenting Board could potentially be more representative of the views of more young people to ensure a balanced view on a range of different experiences.


·        Reference was made to the Panel’s previous intention to look at accommodation for care leavers and it was suggested that as this formed part of the Action Plan in response to Ofsted’s findings, it may be more appropriate to discuss the issue after April when there would be more information available as to the progress against the action plan.  Whilst the Members agreed that there may be more stability at that point, they were still be keen to receive information in relation to the current position and the proposals to address the issues identified for care leavers in order to complete the Panel’s current scrutiny topic.


The Chair thanked the Director for her attendance and the information provided.


AGREED that the update information in relation to the most recent Ofsted Monitoring Visit, for November 2022, be noted.

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