Government inspectors have rated Cambridgeshire County Council as ‘overall good’ for its arrangements for children in need of help and protection, looked after children and care leavers.

The ‘good’ judgement by OfSTED – the Office for Standards in Education – comes less than two years after a similar inspection rated the authority’s safeguarding procedures as ‘inadequate.’

This if the first time a local authority in the country has gone from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ for child protection – a leap of two categories to the second highest.

Inspectors said Council leaders and senior managers responded ‘purposefully and systematically’ to the improvement agenda following the previous inspection.

“Lead members and senior officers demonstrate a good knowledge of the needs of all children in Cambridgeshire,” said the inspectors’ report.

The new model of social work practice in the county was particularly praised. Inspectors said social workers told them they felt safe, secure and valued in an environment where good social work practice could flourish.

“Senior managers are viewed as being supportive and visible, and they have high expectations of their social workers in terms of performance and quality standards. Social workers have told inspectors that they are proud to work in Cambridgeshire because of the sustained support they receive from skilled, experienced and accessible managers,” the report added.

Adoption was also singled out as ‘good’ by inspectors. They said a ‘strong sense of urgency and purposeful work’ could be seen in achieving permanency for those children unable to return home.

“Permanency planning in Cambridgeshire is rigorous and is subject to regular senior management oversight and scrutiny,” they said. Inspectors noted that Cambridgeshire was in the top 25 per cent of local authorities for the number of looked after children being adopted – increasing year on year to 17 per cent in 2013.

They praised the establishment of the voluntary adoption agency Coram Cambridgeshire Adoption (CCA), adding that it was likely to further develop the effectiveness, efficiency and pace of adoption activities in the county.

“Adopters receive comprehensive training in both the pre-adoptive and post-adoption phases; adopters commented favourably on the quality and range of training offered,” added their report.

Leadership, management and governance were rated overall as ‘good’ by the inspection team. They said that by February 2013 the Council had acted upon all the recommendations of the previous inspection and had developed a further improvement plan which went beyond the requirements of the improvement notice.

“The authority has demonstrated that it is open to learning from both external and internal review and challenge. The senior management team has the full support of the Chief Executive and leaders of the Council, who are strong advocates for children and young people,” said inspectors.

They praised the authority for its continued focus on improvement to ensure all children are appropriately safeguarded, and that the remaining variability and inconsistency in the quality of some casework is addressed.

Inspectors concluded that children's early help needs were identified quickly and that practitioners responded with the right level of support at the earliest opportunity. The co-location of locality teams based around school clusters had been central to this success, they added.

Inspectors were also impressed with multi-agency activity and how closer working relationships enabled children and young people in need of help to be protected. This included young people who were missing from education and those at risk of child sexual exploitation.

The report identified only one area which required improvement – children who need help and protection.

Cllr Joan Whitehead, Chairwoman of the Cambridgeshire’s Children and Young People’s Committee said: “We are delighted with this report. It is testimony to the huge amount of hard work done by elected members, managers and frontline staff since the previous inspection. We were right to keep our faith in the current leadership of children’s services – and that faith has been vindicated.

“I am particularly pleased that inspectors found social workers felt safe, secure and valued. That is important to them and important to us – the contribution made by frontline staff is vital.

“There are of course areas where we still need to improve, but it is encouraging that we were aware of these and had already started work on addressing them.”

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