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 focussed 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 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”.
Inspectors were impressed with East Sussex’s “connected practice” model which places emphasis on the social workers creating “enduring and trusting relationships” with families and children.
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,” said James. “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, and 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.
Council leader, Cllr Keith Glazier, said: “We are extremely fortunate in East Sussex to have a highly skilled and dedicated team delivering this vital service to our most vulnerable families and I am delighted that their efforts have been recognised.
“In spite of the continuing financial pressures, our staff are still delivering an outstanding service. The support they offer to vulnerable families underlines the need for us to fight for more sustainable funding.”
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