Ofsted runs rule over social care and schools service run by Calderdale Council
Children and young people are one of the groups hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but help has been there to guide them through maybe the toughest year of their young lives, and on to the future.
Keeping children safe during the pandemic has been the key goal for Calderdale Council’s Children’s and Young People’s Services team.
Regulator Ofsted has recently run the rule over the service, and found it measures up, says service Director Julie Jenkins and council Cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, Coun Adam Wilkinson.
Each local authority has its service assessed every 12 months by Ofsted – formal conversations rather than published as a report.
Calderdale’s latest meeting, undertaken by Ofsted’s regional senior inspector with specialist inspectors in social work and education, takes in the year since first lockdown, in terms of social care and schools, said Ms Jenkins.
Coun Wilkinson (Lab, Sowerby Bridge) said the response was positive and encouraging, and the council, whose service was in special measures in 2010, still requiring improvement in 2015 and judged “good, with outstanding features” in 2018’s inspection report, is aiming for the top grading next time.
“Our ultimate aim is to achieve an outstanding judgement from Ofsted – there are still some areas where we have a bit of work to do but it is important to aim high because we want the best for all our children in Calderdale.
“We want to be in a place where all our children are healthy, safe and successful,” he said.
The pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges and the Ofsted team saw a stable and experienced leadership team, regularly liaising with colleagues and those across the wider council and partner organisations, said Ms Jenkins.
“What they said we have done is focused on core services and made sure from the beginning of COVID that we are running a safe service,” she said.
Social care teams acted early last year when personal protective equipment was scarce to source supplies ensuring crucial face-to-face visits to families could continue, with a good relationship with schools also supported.
In particular, spotting problems children who may not be subject to protection orders who appear to not be doing as well as they should, may have had, has seen the eyes of partners including social work, school staff and children’s services teams on them.
Swift responses to solve such problems early on before they become serious and required protection orders are key and done through the Front Door project.
The end of 2020 saw the creation of an Early Help Hub to further target quick responses, favourably commented on by the inspectors – all this cannot be done alone and training provided to partners including early years practitioners means the system is proactive, said Ms Jenkins.
“It is really working on relationships with families, not being punitive but what they think they might need to make things better. Ofsted said that was really good,” she said.
Each school has a child protection expert and each “pod” of four social workers and a team leader were a part of the key worker force, making crucial home visits.
“Workers’ Wednesdays” sessions, allowing social workers putting in irregular hours some regular time to relax, also received praise from the inspectors, said Ms Jenkins.
Using technology allowed support to be given to foster families and to hold case conferences.
The return to school on March 8 had brought fresh challenges, she said.
This had seen ongoing support from the council’s Public Health team, and Coun Wilkinson said he had gone into one of Calderdale’s schools – Ryburn – to help deliver COVID rapid tests, which the children will have to start undertaking themselves at home.
Children seemed to be coping well, although the year had been challenging for headteachers often dealing with changes in Government guidance at short notice, he said.
“It’s important to stay in touch with our schools regularly to advise them on what measures they can take to keep schools as safe as possible, and if they do have cases – it will be inevitable and all will have cases coming in.
“Going forward there is the whole issue of pupils trying to catch up with what they have missed.
“Also important is the wellbeing and mental health of children and staff, particularly young children for which this has been a huge proportion of their lives.
“They have not had much social interaction with children or other people and it’s important to strike a balance between ensuring we look after children’s wellbeing and ensuring they are catching up as much as possible,” said Coun Wilkinson.
On the testing – schools are required to do this under supervision until it is judged children can do it at home – he added: “At Ryburn it was amazing, they just got on with it, they were patient and polite and took it in their stride.”
Ms Jenkins said schools had become expert mini-assessment experts as well as teaching, stepping up remote learning to meet educational challenges.