An Ofsted report released on Friday rated the services Leeds provides for vulnerable children as ‘Good’ with ‘outstanding’ leadership, management and governance.
Leeds is the only ‘core city’ in the country to have got this high rating. Only one other local authority has achieved this ‘outstanding’ ranking.
And it represents a huge turn around from the situation in 2009 – when inspectors rated the city’s services as inadequate.
The Labour administration which took over in 2010 has made children and their safety a high priority.
This report is a measure of their success – and of the hard work and dedication of Leeds’ social workers.
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The report focuses on the services the council provides for children in need of help and protection, children in care and care leavers – in other words, on services for vulnerable children.
The inspectors not only highlighted many aspects of the council’s children’s services as good, they acknowledged the swift progress which has been made over the past five years. Leadership, management and governance were singled out for praise as ‘outstanding’. There’s only one other authority in the UK which has achieved this rating.

The report recognises that
“Children and young people are at the heart of the city’s ‘growth strategy’.”

“Safeguarding is a key priority within this strategy and the Leeds approach is underpinned by strong governance arrangements and committed city-wide partnerships.”

“Leeds has successfully integrated local authority, health and third sector services ….Multi-agency, locality ‘cluster’ arrangements ensure that good and effective use is made of local partnerships…”

Leeds has a very diverse population, and areas of real disadvantage.
So the achievements here are doubly commendable.
It’s an accolade for the Council – but also for all the social workers and staff who have worked so hard on this. The report talks about Leeds as a place where ‘great social work can flourish’ and as having ‘tenacious staff’. That’s a wonderful and well-deserved testament to them and their dedication.

In fact the report is full of praise
– for the council’s ‘child centred’ approach “The authority and professionals across the city put children and young people at the heart of their work’
– It highlights the council’s ‘extensive, early and targeted help services available to families at the first emerging of a problem’; and its work to safely reduce the numbers of children in care in the city; ‘outcomes for children and young people are improving because help is being provided at an earlier stage and more children are safely remaining with their families’.
– It talks about the success of the council’s work with care leavers, and of the help given to families at an early stage.

It’s especially notable that the council’s work on identifying young people at risk of child sexual exploitation was commended; “Considerable progress has been made over the past two years in tackling child sexual exploitation” and “There is a robust and well-co-ordinated response to children who are missing and/or at risk of experiencing child sexual exploitation.”

The Leeds approach is an innovative one.
In February Leeds secured £4.8 million from the Department for Education’s Innovation Programme to launch new ways of providing children’s social care. The council is committed to building a restorative, family-centred model – one that works with families to build their skills, support and resilience so they can find their own solutions to the challenges they face and solve problems earlier, before they reach a point of crisis.
This is ‘restorative practice’ – and the Oftsed report was full of praise for this, too, speaking of the Councl’s ‘unique investment and commitment to ‘Restorative Practices’ [which] is having a transformational impact on culture and professional practice across both the social work service and the Children’s Partnership’ and is ‘successfully challenging traditional social work approaches’.

The council is also expanding its Family Group Conferences.
These are special meetings where family members and close family friends come together to make decisions for a vulnerable child on the edge of care. Leeds has been using the conferences for a number of years and has seen extremely positive results by keeping children who would previously have gone into care safely with their families. The report comments that “Parents who spoke to inspectors feel that this help is effective and has made a difference to their lives.”

The report also reviewed the effectiveness of the Leeds Safeguarding Children Board – also rated as ‘good’
– effective in holding people to account for their contrbution ‘to the safety and protection of children and young people in Leeds, including those children living away from their home area. The Board’s leadership has been instrumental in developing a strong support and challenge culture, and this is valued by all senior partners.”

And, again, the board was praised for innovative practice – especially in the role it plays in tackling child sexual exloitation; “There is a strong focus on the voice and influence of children and young people through an innovative Student LSCB” “The Board has been influential through its strong leadership in ensuring a strong focus on child sexual exploitation and children missing from home and care.”

The report can be read in full here

Councillor Judith Blake, Labour’s executive member for children and families said:
“This Ofsted judgement is a fantastic endorsement of the ambition and drive of all our partners across the city to improve the lives of the most vulnerable children and young people in Leeds.

“We have worked hard to make sure that children are at the heart of everything we do – not just within children’s services but throughout all council services, and through our work with organisations across the city. Our partnership work to make Leeds a child friendly city was highlighted as one of our key strengths by the inspectors.

“This is a very important step on our improvement journey, but there is still a long way to go to achieve our aim to make this the best city to grow up in for all young people.

“The report recognises our strong relationships with other organisations responsible for children in the city – only by working together can we ensure all a child’s needs are met, and their futures secured.”

All in all this is a tremendous vote of confidence in the Labour Council’s approach to children’s services and to the most vulnerable in our community.

It’s a report to take very seriously as we approach local elections on May 7.

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