Children's social care services at Cheshire East Council still 'require improvement to be good' - according to Ofsted.
Inspectors carried out a visit in November 2019, following a focused inspection of services 12 months before.
In their report published today (9 January) they have recognised that the local authority has made significant progress in some areas.
It says referrals about children for whom there are safeguarding concerns are almost always dealt with quickly and appropriately, and praised social workers for being 'creative in their direct work with children'.
The report also highlights improvements in early help services, enabling more children and families to access timely and appropriate support.
It states children at risk of domestic abuse have access to a wealth of support, and there are well embedded systems to safeguard children missing from education or home educated.
But it says improvement is needed in other services to ensure that children receive a consistently good service.
While initial concerns are dealt with effectively and families receive a service at the right level of intervention, the subsequent interventions are not consistently good.
The report says some vulnerable children’s situations are not improving quickly enough, and there are avoidable delays in determining and implementing plans for some children, and not all vulnerabilities are fully recognised and addressed.
It suggests that there is not always appropriate help given to children experiencing chronic long-term neglect, children who are privately fostered, and homeless 16- and 17-year-olds.
Efforts to improve foster carer recruitment have not had sufficient impact and some foster carers feel poorly supported.
The main areas that need to improve are:
- The quality, consistency and analysis of assessments, and the child focus of plans
- Management oversight of cases in pre-proceedings, to avoid drift and delay for children
- The response to children in private fostering arrangements, children who are homeless aged 16 and 17 years old, and care leavers who need emergency accommodation
- The quality and consistency of support and engagement with foster carers.
- Consistent management oversight and supervision in the organisation to ensure that consistent, good-quality social work practice is in place.
Mark Palethorpe, acting executive director for people, said: “I am proud of the progress we have made in our services for children over the last few years. But, as the Ofsted inspectors have identified, we must continue to make further improvements to achieve the rating of ‘good’.
"Our vision is to make Cheshire East a great place to be young and we will continue to keep children and young people at the heart of our services.
“We have launched a new social work practice model that has had substantial impact on social care practice and assessment. In the long term we are confident and committed to ensuring that this new approach supports improvements to consistency and quality, both in terms of practice, assessment and oversight.”
“Foster carers play an essential job in the life of some children and young people. We value our foster carers highly and must work harder to make sure that they feel supported and that we recruit more foster carers into this very special role.
“Senior managers at the council are fully committed to building on our areas of good practice and bringing consistency across all service areas – further improving the effectiveness of their oversight and management in guiding work at the front line.
“I’d like recognise the continued commitment, professionalism and engagement of frontline staff and managers and also thank the inspectors for their insight and comments. These, along with continued oversight and challenge of our corporate parenting committee and children and families overview and scrutiny committee, will help guide us in our continued improvement of services for children.”