VULNERABLE children living in Hampshire are given good services by Hampshire County Council (HCC) – and some areas are ‘outstanding’, according to watchdogs.
A team of 10 inspectors from Ofsted assessed the council’s services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after, and care leavers, during a four-week unannounced visit in February and March.
They found that services overall are ‘good’ and in some areas ‘outstanding’.
Inspectors concluded that services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after, and the experience and progress of care leavers were ‘good’.
Adoption performance and leadership, management and governance were rated as ‘outstanding’.
The effectiveness of the Local Safeguarding Children Board, which was inspected at the same time, was also rated as ‘good’.
The report, published on Tuesday, said: “Services for vulnerable children and families are given the highest priority by elected members.
“Senior officers provide outstanding leadership and have ensured that services are of consistently high quality. This has been sustained over a number of years.”
It added: “Overall, services are making a demonstrable difference in reducing risks and improving the life chances of some of the most vulnerable children in Hampshire.”
HCC was advised on how to improve its services even further, which included ensuring that social workers’ caseloads are manageable and that all children in care make good or better progress in their education.
The report highlighted that of the 280,150 children and young people under the age of 18 who live in Hampshire, 12 per cent live in poverty.
As of March 31, 6,502 children were identified as being in need of specialist children’s service support – an increase from 6,312 in March last year.
Of these children, 1,131 are being looked after by the local authority – an increase from 1,103 last March. The majority of these, 833, live with foster families.
The report highlighted numerous positive aspects of HCC’s services.
However, it did refer to a “very small number of cases (nine)” where children requiring a low level service faced delays before assessments were carried out.
The report said: “Although no child was left at risk of significant harm, needs within these families remained unmet for too long.”
Inspectors said action was being taken to address this problem. HCC’s adoption performance was graded as ‘outstanding’. The report said that adoption is considered for all children at the earliest opportunity.
Adoptions have increased over the last three years from 37 in 2011-12 to 62 in 2012-13. Figures for this year show that 72 children have already been placed for adoption.
The report said: “The local authority set itself ambitious targets to increase the number of adoptive families over the last two years.”
Councillor Keith Mans, executive lead member for children’s services at HCC, congratulated the children’s services team for the positive result.
He said the report affirmed that “children under our watch, and in our care, are safe and well-looked-after.”
He added: “The inspectors agreed that we have the right children in care, which means we are assessing children correctly, and only placing children in care when this is absolutely necessary and right to do so.”
He said plans were already being implemented to work on areas highlighted for improvement.
Cllr Mans said supporting families in need is “one of the toughest jobs in the public sector”, adding: “I am proud it is done to such a high standard in Hampshire.”