Ofsted inspectors have said that improvements are required across the board at Calderdale Council’s Children and Young People’s Services, but the department is set to be pulled-out of special measures.
The department was rated inadequate by inspectors in 2010, but a four-week-long inspection in January found the department is making improvements to its services, but that it still has a long way to go.
The inspection found that the department required improvement in key areas: children who need help and protection; arrangements for children in care and its management and governance.
The council’s adoption services were found to be inadequate because of the length of time it takes to complete the adoption process.
Coun Colin Raistrick (Ind, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe), cabinet member for Children and Young People, said: “We’ve taken a huge step forward.
“I know we’ve only gone from inadequate to requires improvement, but we were at the bottom end of inadequate and now we’re at the top end of requires improvement - so it’s not just a one point improvement, it’s a 1.8 point improvement.
“To use a football analogy - we’ve come from being at the bottom of the conference to looking for promotion to the championship,” he said.
“I don’t make political points and nobody in Calderdale makes political points about Children and Young People’s Services.
“We’ve changed the whole way of working - it’s unrecognisable from what it was in 2010.”
The report said the council was doing some things very well and highlighted the way it deals with child sexual exploitation (CSE) as being good practice.
The report said “CSE is given a high priority in Calderdale,” adding that a central register used by the department and police means agencies have “comprehensive and timely information about those most at risk”.
Stuart Smith, director of Children and Young People’s Services, said: “We had a lot of praise for a number of areas: early intervention services, the troubled families programme, and the way we manage our intake and assessment centre.
“We keep a central database of children who are vulnerable or might be at risk so that the left hand always knows what the right hand is doing.
“For example, if a child has missed school and stays out overnight without telling their parents and say they get nicked for possessing cannabis on the streets - they’ll appear three times on our database and we’ll get a special alert.
“That’s one of the ways we identify children at risk of CSE.”
Inspectors found that were no children in care who shouldn’t be, and found that no children in immediate risk had been missed by the department.
The report highlighted three key areas that the department must improve as a matter of urgency: to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete adoptions; to improve the recruitment of adopters; and to ensure that more young people are interviewed when returning home after being reported missing.
Mr Smith said the council has recently set up a Permanence Improvement Board to address the length of time it takes to adopt a child.
“Every fortnight social work managers look at all the cases to see if there are any kids for whom we could make the permanent arrangements more swiftly,” he said.
“We do something called twin-track planning. You hope that a child’s arrangements will improve sufficiently that they can go and live with their parents.
“But even though you try really hard to make that work, you also work in the background to set up an adopter for them.”
Mr Smith said the recruitment of adopters is a complicated process and one that must be balanced with the welfare of the child.
Coun Raistrick said: “Government policy is right on this - we should be trying to make the process as pain-free for the adopter and as quick as possible for the adoptee.
“You also don’t want to make mistakes by rushing things - there is an argument that rushing things could be worse for both parties.
“This report shows that we always act in the interests of the child - that’s the most important thing.”
Mr Smith said the council is looking into ways to encourage more young people to speak to social workers after the return from being reported missing.
He said he expected to receive confirmation from the government that the department will be officially taken out of special measures.
“None of it is failing and there are no children who aren’t safe,” he said.