Bromley's incredible journey in children's services

Source: PSE Feb/March 2019

Interim chief executive, Ade Adetosoye OBE, reveals the story behind Bromley’s incredible improvement journey in Children’s Services.

Improving the quality of services for children, young people and families at pace is a daunting challenge, one which I have encountered regularly during my 25 years of social work practice. To deliver outstanding children’s services, I believe three key elements are required: strong and supportive corporate and political leadership, a clearly articulated vision and shared values, and an empowered and well-resourced workforce.

Over the last two years, we have radically transformed children’s services in Bromley – moving on from a devastating ‘inadequate’ judgement by Ofsted in 2016 to our recent re-inspection in November 2018 where the council was judged as delivering ‘good’ services for children and young people. The impact of leaders on social work practice for children and families was further judged as ‘outstanding’ – a feat unprecedented by any other local authority in such a short space of time.

In 2016, the council’s leadership, as well as our partner agencies, collectively owned responsibility for Ofsted’s findings and were determined to put things right, releasing funding to deliver the necessary improvements rather than allow the creation of an independently-governed Children’s Services Trust. This commitment from the council’s senior leadership and multi-agency partners to fulfil their statutory responsibilities in safeguarding children and young people. This was the first step on our improvement journey.

As the incoming executive director for Education, Care and Health Services in December 2016, I increased the number of management posts to improve the strength of management oversight and supervision at all levels. I was fully supported by the newly-appointed deputy leader of the council and executive member for Children’s Services, councillor Peter Fortune, who is a passionate advocate for children and ensured that all members received training on being a ‘corporate parent’ to our children in care.

In 2017, we outlined the improvement areas and key actions required to deliver better outcomes for children and young people in our ‘Roadmap to Excellence’ document. The Roadmap articulated our shared vision and values: “By working together with agency partners, we will ensure that every child in Bromley has the right help at the right time to keep them safe, and to meet their needs, so that they achieve, thrive and reach their full potential.”

In particular, the senior leadership team was committed to ensuring that social work practitioners had manageable caseloads to deliver high-quality and child-centred social work. Consequently, we implemented a ‘caseload promise’ to foster a thriving working environment: by November 2018, over 80% of our children’s social care staff are permanent employees compared to 42% in 2016, which is one of the most improved performances in London.

We also needed to re-establish strong working relationships with multi-agency partners from police, health, and education services. Under the new Safeguarding Children Board’s independent chair, we strengthened our multi-agency training and learning opportunities, improved communication and engagement with partners, and ensured that there were commonly understood thresholds for referring children and young people to social care services.

We also knew that independent scrutiny and oversight was essential to ensuring continuous improvement. The independent chair of our Children’s Services Improvement Board, Isobel Cattermole, held the council’s leadership and partners to account through monthly meetings, rigorously reviewing the progress on delivering the 306 actions in our Improvement Plan.

As a local area, we were not alone on our improvement journey: our progress was closely monitored by the Department for Education’s appointed commissioner, Frankie Sulkie, who regularly came to Bromley to determine whether the quality of services was improving. We were delighted in September 2017 when Frankie recommended to the DfE that she had seen sufficient progress and the council should maintain control of our children’s services. Ofsted also carried out seven monitoring visits over two years, reviewing the quality of practice and making further suggestions for improvement.

By the time Ofsted returned for re-inspection in November 2018, we felt confident in the quality and impact of our children’s social care services. Over 90% of the actions on our improvement plan had been completed and the findings over the course of our seven Ofsted monitoring visits indicated that there was no longer any inadequate practice in Bromley. During the inspection, Ofsted noted that it was a pleasure to meet with committed, articulate and professional social work practitioners, who ably demonstrated knowledge of their children and had clear plans in place for their care.

We were delighted that the Ofsted report in January 2019 recognised our vision, commitment and determination to transform services for our children and young people. I was particularly gratified that inspectors noted the “whole council investment in children’s services” and that “staff at every level have high aspirations for the children who receive services”. Indeed, this outcome would not have been achieved without the tireless commitment of colleagues across the council, who in their respective roles always ask themselves “Would this be good enough for my child?”.

Ultimately, I think the real measure of our success is in the views of the children themselves. The Ofsted report states that children in care in Bromley now “feel ‘they are known’ and ‘they feel valued’”, which is the reason why we come to work every day.


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