'It was quite emotional': Yorkshire social workers reduced to tears by Ofsted report after huge improvements

Social workers have been reduced to tears by Ofsted’s latest verdict on Wakefield’s children’s services, which has highlighted huge improvements.

The care watchdog rated the department as ‘good’ in a report published on Wednesday, having placed the service in special measures and graded it ‘inadequate’ in 2018.

The damning findings then prompted a huge overhaul of the service, which Ofsted said then was poorly led, understaffed and placing vulnerable children in Wakefield at risk.

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Council bosses say the scale of improvements in the time since is “almost unprecedented”, when compared to other local authorities who’ve grappled with similar failings.

The care watchdog rated the department as ‘good’

Inspectors highlighted the very high job satisfaction levels among social workers in their latest report, which marks a stark contrast to the situation three years ago.

Council leader Denise Jeffery said staff she’d met on Wednesday morning, after the news was announced, had been overwhelmed.

She said: “There were tears in their eyes. I went round and spoke to the different groups and they were so proud.

“They were a team and they’re ones who’ve done it, and they want to work for Wakefield Council.

“It was a special atmosphere and we’re absolutely delighted. It was quite emotional.

“We’ve come a long way and we’re so proud of what we’ve achieved, because we were in dire straits three years ago, there’s no doubt about that.”

Vicky Schofield, who is the council’s interim corporate director for children and young people, was drafted into the local authority shortly after Ofsted’s 2018 findings, and has been credited with helping to drive the progress.

She’d previously been involved in a similar firefighting job with Rotherham’s children’s services.

Speaking on Wednesday, she said: “In 2018, there was a reference from Ofsted to serious and widespread failure, which is certainly what I’d say we were dealing with at that point.

“We’re not there now. We’ve got a system that’s established and works for children and young people and that also helps social workers to feel safe and confident in what it is they do. “

Ms Schofield said the impact of Covid on the service couldn’t be “overstated”, given the reduction in some face-to-face contact between social workers and vulnerable children.

She said the “complex problems” staff faced on a daily basis “are not easily tackled over a computer screen”.

She added: “Three years sounds like a long time, but in the context of what we’ve dealt with, it is a long time.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve done because it’s almost unprecedented to do this (make such progress in such a short space of time).

“But we’ve done in in that context.”

Councillor Margaret Isherwood became the portfolio holder for children and young people shortly after the failings were exposed in 2018.

She said that better ways of working were now “set in stone”, so that the service could continue to thrive.

Recalling early talks with social workers after she was promoted, she said: “The morale was down as far as you can go. It really was.

“The meetings we had with them were extremely hard because they had no faith in us delivering beyond what we’d already got.

“Staff had caseloads that were too high and people were off with stress, because they didn’t have the care and support they should have got at that time.

“We’ve now got a happy workforce because we’ve tackled that.”