Manchester is now amongst the top performing local authorities for services to children in the North West after being officially rated Good by Ofsted.
The rating follows a full inspection in March by Ofsted of the services provided by the city council to its children and young people and is the first time the city has been rated Good since the body first started inspecting local authority services.
It comes off the back of the council's rating of Requires Improvement at its last full inspection in 2017, and a rating of Inadequate at its inspection before that in 2014.
The new Good rating means that services provided by the council to children and young people in Manchester are now amongst the best in the region, with no North West local authorities currently rated in a higher category than Good.
Inspectors found that services for children in the city have significantly improved since the last inspection in 2017, with many areas of service providing consistent practice for most children and their families, including when children first need support, come into care, and leave care.
They praised the overall effectiveness of services and the impact of leaders on social work practice, and judged the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers to be good.
Highlights of inspectors' findings include:
- A stable and effective Early Help service for children who require early intervention, with prompt responses to requests for early help including from partner agencies.
- Children in care make good progress in most areas of their lives and are able to live with their wider family, or with carers who meet their needs.
- They come into care at a time that is right for them to do so, with their individual needs carefully considered, including whether they should live with their brothers and sisters, or wider family members or friends who can care for them on a permanent basis.
- They receive the right support to ensure their health and emotional well-being needs are met, and see their social workers regularly, developing positive, trusting relationships with them.
- They make good educational progress through careful, coordinated planning and have personal education plans that are of a high quality and are contributed to by a wider range of relevant professionals
- Young people leaving care receive a consistently good service, underpinned by a strong child-focused strategy and a clear promise to young people to make sure that they are happy, healthy, safe, and successful as they move into adulthood.
- Young people are supported to learn independence skills at a pace that is right for them, with the help of skilled and experienced personal advisors from the age of 16 to support them to become independent and move on to live in suitable accommodation, and to continue in education, or to access employment or training.
- The care leaver service and the virtual school team work well together to improve outcomes and to make sure that all young people benefit from the wide and varied range of opportunities that Manchester and Greater Manchester have to offer.
- Children who are being exploited or at risk of being exploited or go missing from home are supported from an early stage with risks promptly identified with support provided to them through the complex safeguarding hub.
- Improved social worker case-loads
- As a result of the strong commitment to partnership working in the city, children, young people and their families have received an improving level of service that has offered safety and support throughout the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Inspectors also found that political and senior leaders in the city have maintained a consistently strong focus on improving practice, that they work alongside their partners well, and have continued to improve services for most children despite the impact of Covid-19 on the workforce and on communities.
They acknowledged the strength of these relationships which together with a city-wide focus on the 'our child' approach is improving outcomes for children and young people.
City leaders were also praised for having overseen a continued financial commitment to improving services for children in Manchester, which has included increasing the number of social workers and introducing a career pathway for them, as well as embedding a learning culture across the workforce - all of which have strengthened the local authority's ability to retain experienced social workers.
Councillor Garry Bridges, Executive Member for Children and Schools, Manchester City Council, said: "Our latest rating is a great achievement for the city. I'm pleased that Ofsted recognise the strength of our commitment and the improvements we've made in the services we provide for children, along with the investment we've put in to help us achieve this.
"We couldn't have done it without our dedicated staff and their determination to always do their best for our children - a determination which didn't falter even during COVID - and it's a credit to them that we've continued to improve despite the challenges of the pandemic.
"Inspectors could see that children matter in Manchester - they're involved in decisions in the city and our staff put them at the centre of everything they do. Inspectors heard first-hand from young people themselves about the positive difference they've made to their lives.
"Children will continue to be our priority - we've already dedicated 2022 to children and young people - and have formally committed to becoming a UNICEF recognised Child Friendly City.
"We've moved on a long way from being rated Inadequate by Ofsted in 2014 and are determined that Manchester is recognised as an authority which values children's services, and as a city where children come first."
Inspectors also found that social workers themselves are positive about working in Manchester and value the support they get from managers, as well as the regular and effective communication they had with them throughout the pandemic, ensuring the whole workforce was up to speed on any changes and the expectations of them during this time.
Social workers who have been in Manchester since the previous inspection told inspectors they can see how the change in culture and practice in Manchester is improving children's lives.
Paul Marshall, Strategic Director for Children and Education Services, Manchester City Council, said: "The inspection report is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff and partners who are committed to building a safe, happy, healthy, and successful future for all children and young people in the city.
"Whilst we welcome the inspection findings and our Good rating we're far from complacent. We know there are things that we still need to improve and are fully sighted on them and are making the improvements we need to at pace.
"We're confident that we're heading in the right direction towards ensuring the very best outcomes for every child in the city and are certain Ofsted will see continued improvements when they next inspect us."
The areas highlighted by Ofsted for further work by the local authority include better understanding of the effects of domestic abuse on children and their parents' lives: improving the quality and timeliness of children's written records; further work to recognise and meet the diverse needs of children arising from race, religion, ethnicity and culture; and further improvements in the practice around the care and protection of disabled children to create a better understanding of the impact of the child's disability on their life and daily experiences and on their families and to help disabled children achieve their potential.
A copy of Ofsted's report can be found here