Council press release below and full report available here. This is a crucial area of the council's work and we must never be complacent about it.
An Ofsted inspection has found that Safeguarding and Looked After Children services in Reading are performing adequately.
The report published today on the Ofsted website says: 'The overall effectiveness of safeguarding services is adequate. Children and young people at immediate risk of significant harm are identified and responded to in a timely way to ensure they are protected, and partner agencies collaborate well operationally to safeguard children and young people.'
It goes on to say: 'Strong political leadership and a commitment to safeguarding are ensuring high prioritisation of children's safety and protection within the council's strategic priorities.'
Inspectors also took time to praise the prioritisation of children's safety and protection within a tight Council budget. The report states: 'Staffing capacity has been increased in key areas and political support has been unwavering in protecting children's services, despite wider economic pressures.'
The Ofsted team visited Reading Borough Council's Safeguarding and Looked After Children's service between February 6 and 17 this year.
The inspection included discussions with 30 children and young people receiving services and a review of 60 case files for children, as well as discussions with front line Council officers, elected members and the health professionals from NHS Berkshire, Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust who help deliver the service. At the time of the inspection there were 243 looked after children, 180 of which were subject to child protection plans.
Attracting and retaining Safeguarding staff is a nationwide issue for every local authority. Ofsted Inspectors noted Reading Borough Council had 'invested to maintain a stable workforce' and added 'training and professional development needs of newly qualified social workers are recognised...'
Inspectors also deemed capacity for improvement in Safeguarding to be adequate. The report adds: 'Staff across the partnership report they enjoy working in the borough and demonstrate commitment to the values of the partnership and its priorities and direction.'
The Council has already taken action, including extending Children's Social Care's existing audit processes to routinely monitor consistency and quality, and introducing a quarterly independent file review. The Council, NHS Berkshire and other partners will also be establishing robust, agreed quality standards for Safeguarding practice across the partnership.
The second area of the inspection was in Looked After Children. Despite the significant challenge of a 7% increase over the last 18 months in the number of looked after children and young people in Reading - as against 2% nationally the service was again deemed to be adequate, as was it's capacity for improvement.
The report states: 'Outcomes in respect of enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and economic well-being are good.' It adds: 'The council and its members demonstrate good ambition for looked after children and young people and have prioritised resources and specific areas of practice improvement.'
The need for the Council to improve the provision of in-house foster carers was noted by inspectors who also said: 'There is also evidence that the Council's use of resources is increasingly effective in maintaining cost-control and is providing value for money.'
Health was highlighted by inspectors as the main area for improvement for Looked After Children. This was deemed inadequate by inspectors. A number of recommendations were made to NHS Berkshire and Berkshire Healthcare Foundation NHS to improve this area. These include ensuring that all care leavers are enabled to access health services and that all looked after children and young people receive age-appropriate health education information.
John Ennis, Reading Borough Council's Lead Councillor for Education and Children's Services, said: 'This is an encouraging report in what is the most important of all areas of the Council's work. It is clear however that there is still a considerable amount of work to be done to help drive through further improvements. We will now continue to work closely with our partners to make sure the improvements that are needed are delivered.'