Most vulnerable children supported throughout the pandemic

This story was published 30 July 2021

Vulnerable children in North Yorkshire have been protected, helped and supported throughout the pandemic by “effective services from skilled and compassionate professionals” according to Ofsted inspectors.

Children's cooking workshop

During a recent focused visit of our children’s services and in particular the help and protection it provides for vulnerable children, inspectors praised “highly confident senior leaders and managers” who have “ensured that children’s services have continued to develop positively since the last inspection”.

Our Children and Young People’s Service is currently rated as outstanding and has been appointed a Partner in Practice with the Department for Education.

The Ofsted inspectorate is currently looking into how England’s social care system has provided services and care for children and young people since the outbreak of Covid-19.

The inspection in North Yorkshire looked at “front door” arrangements, where families come into contact with children’s services, including assessments and plans for child protection and children in need, referrals to services, support and other agencies. Inspectors looked at how the threshold for services and accommodation of children is applied, as well as decision-making and contact with families and children. 

In its report, Ofsted said that despite the expected increase in the number of children being referred to local authorities due to the pandemic, vulnerable children in North Yorkshire were protected and supported.

It stated: “Despite Covid-19 and the resultant increase in the number of children being referred to children’s services, partnership work has flourished, the practice model is now fully embedded and vulnerable children received effective services from skilled and compassionate professionals that protect, helps and supports them.

“Confident, skilled leaders and managers know their help and protection service very well and respond quickly and effectively to emerging issues, rise in demand or change in workforce patterns. They have created a service where social workers are supported to develop their initiative, be imaginative, and help families build safe networks to raise children.”

County Councillor Janet Sanderson, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Children and Young People’s Service said: “We place a high value on our deeply committed and effective workforce. “We are very pleased to receive recognition of this from Ofsted, but we will never become complacent in our work and strive to make a positive difference to the lives of our most vulnerable children, young people and their families.”

During the inspection, Ofsted found improved outcomes for most children who were being supported.  Only low numbers of children needed to be brought into local authority care due to the extensive support and resources put in place for families.

In the last year there have been only two incidents where emergency orders were needed. The inspectors concluded that those emergency orders were used appropriately.

Inspectors praised in detail the work of North Yorkshire’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Team (MAST), which safeguards vulnerable children and young people, with an additional focus on those being exploited, at risk through domestic abuse or who go missing.

The multi-agency screening team brings together managers and social workers from children’s social care, early help service, health and police.

The MAST screens every case received within 24 hours of contact being made, reviewing the dangers and strengths within a family or wider community.  It means that any concerns or referrals regarding children, be they from individuals, schools, GPs, health providers, police or social care, will have one point of contact.

Ofsted stated: “MAST practice is of a high standard, where skilled managers and staff screen contacts and referrals and make appropriate decisions about next steps within a 24-hour timeframe.”

Inspectors also said that child protection investigations are “comprehensive, recorded to the highest standards and are completed without any delay.”

Children’s views are included and well detailed in child and family assessments: “Social workers take the views of children seriously and they inform the recommendations of assessments and the provision of further services.”

Speaking about the report, the Assistant Director of Children’s Services, Martin Kelly, said: “North Yorkshire does a lot to keep children and young people within their families and communities.

“More children in North Yorkshire stay within their family network; fewer children come into care and we put fewer families through the trauma of being taken through the court system. There’s a whole sense that we roll our sleeves up and work with, and alongside, families.

“We make sure we walk in families’ shoes to really understand what it feels to be like in that family, their challenges, why they respond to challenges in those ways and then put the right help in place, building a framework of support for their children.”

Inspectors also found that since the last inspection, the County Council’s practice has become well-embedded, not only at the heart of its own children’s services, but also in the practice of partners.

For example, the County Council’s ground breaking No Wrong Door programme, which supports children and young people at risk of entering care, has been rolled out to other local authorities across the country in recent years.

The programme is centred on two hubs in the county, one in Scarborough, the other in Harrogate. The hubs have replaced traditional council-run children’s homes with a range of integrated provision.  This includes residential care home beds; emergency residential beds; community foster family placements; supported accommodation and supported lodgings and outreach support.  All professionals working in the hubs are trained and work in common with a restorative and solutions-focused approach.

Each hub also has a dedicated and embedded team with a life coach who is a clinical psychologist, a speech and communications therapist and a police intelligence role.

The No Wrong Door scheme helped reduced North Yorkshire’s looked-after population by 18 per cent in its first five years, with the vast majority of young people remaining out of the care system. The programme also helps the overwhelming percentage of young people, 86 per cent, to remain in education, employment or training and reduce levels of criminal activity by almost 40 per cent.

No Wrong Door avoids the high costs of placement breakdown, of having to use out-of-authority care and preventing young people’s descent into the very expensive criminal justice system.

Each young person is given one key worker who sticks with them through thick and thin to access the right services at the right time and in the right place to meet their need. 

Director of Children and Young People’s Services, Stuart Carlton, said: “The outcome is testimony to the hard work of many individual who work hard to make sure families are fully supported and children in North Yorkshire have the best possible outcomes, regardless of their circumstances.

“This includes everyone often behind the scenes who support our teams and our passionate and compassionate front line workers who have sat alongside families, often at their lowest ebb, throughout this pandemic.”