Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Children and Families Service has been commended by Ofsted inspectors for implementing a range of additional improvements since its previous ‘Good’ rating in 2019.
The service supports the borough’s residents in areas ranging from education, children’s social care and safeguarding, preventing families from reaching crisis point and domestic abuse.
Throughout the pandemic the Council saw the number of children and families who need support significantly increase whilst tackling new challenges like working within changing public health guidance and restrictions whilst putting families first.
The service has overcome these by adapting and changing its support to make sure that anyone in the borough who needs help can access the full offer of support available, whilst making sure that children and families are at the heart of decision making.
Offers were rolled out virtually to make sure vital services could continue. This meant one to one services for individuals, parenting classes and domestic abuse programmes could run, with safeguarding and support services remaining face-to-face.
The virtual offer has been a huge success – resulting in more parents and children being reached by professionals, and more intensive involvement. Face-to-face visits have since returned across all Children’s Services and the additional virtual offer will remain available for families, children and parents due to positive feedback.
This success has now been confirmed following a recent Ofsted visit which looked specifically at how families and those affected by domestic abuse access services through a single children’s services front door (called the Integrated Access and Referral Team (iART)), early help, child in need, domestic abuse and safeguarding services.
Findings from the visit confirmed that the service has overcome great challenges and has made further improvements since it’s last ‘Good’ rating 2019. It notes that senior leaders are passionate about creating a service that is sensitive to children and their families and have created a culture of learning and development that is strongly reflected by their staff group. There is strong cross-party support for children’s services, which means that the needs of children who need support the most, are prioritised. Timely responses, assessment work and domestic abuse services were all acknowledged as areas of strength.
Councillor Robert Cernik, Cabinet Member for Children and Families said, “Our Children and Families Service has worked extremely hard under pressure, over the last two years to ensure children and families within our borough get the support that they need.
“I am delighted that our staff have been recognised by Inspectors and that our workforce development strategy was highlighted. This supports the professional development of our social care workforce and helps us create a great team with a wide range of experience in supporting children and their families.
“I would like to thank staff and the service for their hard work and dedication throughout the pandemic to continuously find new ways to support children and families and strive for the best for them.”
The feedback found that children and their families benefit from access to comprehensive early help and a strong, well-coordinated domestic abuse service. This responsiveness to children’s needs at an early stage prevents them escalating to Children’s Social Care.
Contacts and referrals into the local authority’s front door service are well managed and dealt with swiftly. Responses are provided with strong management oversight, to make sure that the appropriate support is given.
Children who do require social care services receive a timely response from social work teams in the area in which they live. Assessments undertaken by these locally based teams are thorough and timely and sensitively gather children’s views as well as those of parents and other agencies. These assessments were seen as a strength of the service.
The Council’s Domestic Abuse Intervention and Prevention Service was also positively recognised, with children and families benefitting from a strong and coordinated response to domestic abuse. The service is helping to ensure a joined-up approach with partners like the Police, so that those that harm and are harmed and children of the family are well supported.
The Council has developed a new partnership model called ‘Our Way of Working’ which ensures a shared language and understanding across all partner organisations. Many of the families the Council works with can experience a broad range of difficulties that need numerous organisation’s support. ‘Our Way of Working’ allows the Council and its partners to work with them in a new, integrated, and targeted way – ensuring that people can tell their story once, with the child or young person being the focus of support.
Partners come together to make decisions that meet the needs of the young person. In the early stages of the pandemic, the Council worked to build on ‘Our Way of Working’ to develop a trauma informed approach – recognising traumas that a young person may have experienced and supporting them based on this experience.
Cllr Cernik added, “It is fantastic to see that the Council’s ‘Our Way of Working’ model has been recognised positively within Inspector’s feedback – it’s made a huge difference to the way we work with our partners for the benefit of residents.
“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on many families across the country, which is why the Council takes a trauma-informed approach to working with children and families through recovery from the pandemic.”