Suffolk's social care for children among the top in the country, report confirms
PUBLISHED: 20:22 21 May 2019 | UPDATED: 20:22 21 May 2019
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Social care services for children in Suffolk have been hailed by independent inspectors as being of an "exceptionally high standard" after being just one of a handful in the country to get the top rating.
Education watchdog Ofsted visited Suffolk County Council's children's social care services in April, and gave the service the top 'outstanding' rating in three of the four areas.
The report by lead inspector Margaret Burke said: "Services for children are of an exceptionally high standard.
"They are child-focused and make a positive difference to children's lives.
"Workers build positive and purposeful working relationships with children and their families.
"They ensure that children are safeguarded, and that their wider needs are addressed."
Among areas to have been highlighted include the multi-agency safeguarding hub which signposts families to the appropriate care, its case management process and the high standards of staff.
Conservative cabinet member for children's services, education and skills, Gordon Jones, said it was only the sixth in the country to get the 'outstanding' achievement.
"I am very pleased because it's recognition of all the hard work the staff have put in," he said.
"It validates all the progress we have made since 2013 [when it had an adequate rating], and I think it's good for the families too.
"They have some external reassurance of the outstanding service that we provide.
"We are not complacent, far from it, and the team aren't complacent either - they were never satisfied just being good."
The 'outstanding' rating comes after the council's special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision was deemed to be failing by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, leading to NHS England and the Department for Education having to step in for meetings.
It has raised questions over how one area of the council's children's services department can be rated so differently to another.
"We are on that journey [with SEND]," Mr Jones said.
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"They are very different. There is increasing demand in social care and children in care, foster carers, etcetera.
"The demand [in SEND] is even faster and that demand has grown quite rapidly."
Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: "This is a really encouraging report and I congratulate the staff who have worked hard in achieving this positive judgement.
"However, whilst this is unquestionably a glowing verdict, it is in stark contrast to the local area SEND inspection earlier in the year which delivered such a damning verdict.
"Understandably, people are asking questions as to why there is such a disparity between children's social care services and SEND provision in our county.
"This report also comes off the back of the news that Suffolk has one of the highest numbers of children being housed in unregulated accommodation in the country, homes which are not inspected or regulated by Ofsted. We also must not forget about the three children's homes which were rated as 'inadequate' at the end of last year.
"I hope this report signals that things are finally beginning to change for children in Suffolk."
Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent reaction
Penny Otton, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: "We're very pleased that Ofsted have judged Suffolk's children's services to be 'outstanding'.
"This is a clear endorsement of our extremely hard-working and dedicated frontline staff.
"However, it concerns me greatly that Suffolk County Council still struggles to fill social worker vacancies.
"To keep up this high standard, it is vital that we can continue to attract quality staff.
"It was reported yesterday that there has been a huge rise in the numbers of care-leavers housed in unregulated accommodation in Suffolk.
"I sincerely hope that Suffolk County Council will continue to monitor the standard of this accommodation, and will not put budget concerns ahead of the safety of these children.
"As corporate parents, we must ensure these vulnerable children are protected from exploitation."