The “best possible decisions are being made about children’s care and education” in Southwark, Ofsted found during an inspection of the council’s children’s services.  

Ofsted has been inspecting children’s social care across England to see how services are coping in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Southwark’s inspection in late September was done virtually using video calls with social workers, managers, and leaders.  

In a letter explaining the findings, lead inspector Brenda McInerney wrote that a “rapid, whole-council response” to support children’s wellbeing and to avoid families falling into poverty “has resulted in a very impressive range of help, support, and intervention”.  

“Senior managers and staff have ensured that children and young people continue to be safeguarded.  

“The best possible decisions are being made about children’s care and education, despite the disruption and impact of the pandemic.  

“Despite the immense financial pressures arising from the ongoing impact of Covid-19 in terms of reduced income and increased costs, political and corporate commitment to continue to protect and invest in frontline services for children remains strong,” she wrote.  

Ms McInerney said social workers in Southwark are “skilled and highly committed to improving the outcomes for children”, while “manageable caseloads” give them enough time to do direct work and “build trusting relationships with children, parents and carers”. 

Ofsted found that close working between council departments “ensured the early provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ongoing access to testing for frontline children’s services staff”.  

“An alliance of schools, public health, family centres, social care, police, health visitors and community organisations worked closely together to provide a safety net for vulnerable children in need of services and targeted support to attend school,” Ms McInerney wrote.  

Ofsted praised early help service staff who “have been diligently reaching out to vulnerable families, to help to prevent them from falling into poverty or homelessness as a result of sudden unemployment or debt”. 

According to the letter, technology helped families with vulnerable young children to access online services during lockdown, such as speech and language therapy.  

Ofsted also found the Southwark was quick to respond to concerns about children, including those at increased risk from domestic abuse during the pandemic, and social workers still managed to see children “at risk of significant harm” alone, despite social distancing challenges.  

However, inspectors found that risk assessments for disabled children, whose social workers are part of adult services, “are not being completed routinely”.  

Social work practice to help and protect disabled children is “not sufficiently strong”, according to Ofsted, “particularly in light of the impact of Covid-19 on families”.  

Inspectors found that not all children are visited regularly, and children’s circumstances were “not risk assessed at the start of the pandemic”. 

Ofsted also found interventions to protect young people from criminal exploitation or serious youth violence are “not always timely or well-coordinated across key agencies”. 

Southwark has made serious youth violence a key strategic priority.  

“Given the prevalence of serious youth violence and criminal exploitation in Southwark, the pace of these planned improvements needs to accelerate,” Ms McInerney wrote.  

Councillor Jasmine Ali, deputy leader and cabinet member for children, young people, and schools, told the local democracy service that the council knew it had to “raise its game” on these issues and Ofsted recognised it was working on them.  

She said the young violence strategy is being accelerated.  

“It’s a really difficult area, but we are doing that,” she said, adding the council is tackling youth violence with its community harm and exploitation hub, while youth services are being brought together.  

“We are absolutely committed to getting this right,” Cllr Ali said.  

She said visits to disabled children are “all in hand” and being scheduled.  

Inspectors found “many schools” in Southwark are “working tirelessly to go the extra mile for their vulnerable pupils”.  

“Schools, supported by the local authority, provided learning materials, laptops, food parcels and food vouchers that could be used in local shops and markets,” according to the report.  

Cllr Ali said: “At a time when Government is totally undermining schools, it’s galvanised our partnership - we’re working really well with schools.” 

She added that the report was “overwhelmingly positive”.  

“We knew that we would do our best for our children, young people, and families.  

“But it’s nice to have recognition. The team, from the director right to the frontline, is absolutely dedicated and we’re so lucky to have them.  

“The other thing it’s shown in that we’re working really well with the schools and public health - all our health partners. 

“It’s a celebration of that but obviously there’s more work to do. There’s always more work to do,” she said.