ST Helens Council has been praised for taking “swift action” in response to a damning inspection of children’s services.

Ofsted carried out a two-day focused visit, which looked at aspects of children’s services, in July and published its findings the following month.

In its findings, Ofsted said areas of significant weakness were identified that were placing children at risk of “inadequate protection and significant harm”.

The watchdog issued three “priority action” areas where the council needed to take “swift and decisive action”.

In November, three months on, Ofsted inspectors returned to St Helens to carry out another two-day focused inspection of children’s services.

In its findings, which have been published today, Ofsted have issued no priority actions.

Her Majesty’s Inspector Shabana Abasi writes in the letter: “Since the last focused visit on the 11 and 12 July 2018, the local authority has taken swift action to review a large number of children’s cases using its internal audit system.

“The local authority has also engaged with external partners, who have undertaken reviews of specific elements of children’s social care.

“Through this work, the local authority’s leaders have gained greater insight into the quality of social work practice with children and their families in St Helens.

“The local authority is in the process of finalising their improvement plan, which appropriately includes actions in relation to structure, personnel, systems and practice developments.

“Additionally, the local authority has recruited to an interim post of senior assistant director following the last focused visit in order to strengthen the social work expertise of the senior leadership team.”

Following its visit in July, Ofsted said “entrenched cultural, management and social work practices are negatively impacting on children’s outcomes”.

In its latest finding, Ms Abasi says in the past few months, the senior leadership team has developed a “clear understanding” of the strengths and weaknesses of frontline practice.

She says they understand the challenges and are adopting a “systematic approach” to raising practice standards and improving outcomes for children.

As part of the inspection, inspectors looked at the local authority’s arrangements for the ‘front door’, where contacts and referrals regarding concerns about children are received and actioned.

Inspectors also looked at a range of evidence, including case discussions with social workers and managers, and a number of partners within the front door service.

They also looked at local authority performance management and quality assurance information and children’s case records.

The majority of children whose cases were reviewed as part of the visit, Ms Abasi writes in the letter, receive a “timely and proportionate” response when they need help and support.

Ms Abasi also says that most children at risk of “significant harm” receive a prompt response.

However, she notes that the quality of assessments of children’s needs are not “consistently good”.

“In most cases, children in need of urgent help and protection are appropriately identified and these children receive a swift multi-agency response,” Ms Abasi says.

“While assessments of children’s needs are undertaken and plans for support and intervention are evident on children’s case files, the quality of assessments and plans is not consistently good.”

The letter notes that the front door is currently in a period of transition to a new structure, following a review in August.

Ms Abasi writes that a “significant change” has been the additional management and social work capacity in this part of the service.

“This has resulted in stronger management oversight and improved timeliness and quality in the screening of contacts and referrals,” she writes in the letter.

“This additional capacity was put in place very recently and is currently only confirmed for a limited period.”

While no priority actions were issued, Ofsted say improvements are required in four areas of social work practice, including the quality and consistency of assessments and plans.

Improvements must be made on the quality and use of chronologies in identifying the cumulative impact of harm suffered and in providing a clear picture of the child’s experience.

The service needs to produce meaningful analysis of children’s feelings and views to strengthen the voice of the child in case work.

The council must also agree on the front door structure and recruit to the relevant posts.

Click here to view Ofsted’s findings in full.