Key agencies in Wiltshire have a “strong and committed” partnership, are dedicated to improving outcomes for vulnerable children and have a culture of continuous improvement, inspectors have reported.
The Ofsted-led inspection praised the partnership, whose leaders have prioritised the protection of children, including those living in homes where domestic abuse occurs.
One parent who was the victim of domestic abuse told inspectors: “The support has been wonderful. The police have been extraordinary and the local authority has been great.”
Between 31 October and 4 November 2016, Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HMI Constabulary and HMI Probation carried out a joint inspection in Wiltshire, focussing on the response to children living with domestic abuse.
In all cases viewed by the inspection team, risk had been identified and appropriate action taken to safeguard children. Overall, the inspectors found the multi-agency approach to protecting children and to reducing the risk of domestic abuse is strong. They said the core business of protecting children is done well and the quality of direct work was good. High quality safety plans were in place to ensure the immediate safeguarding of children and victims.
The inspectors’ letter acknowledges the “relentless commitment to improvement” across the partnership. It praises the good range of services available for families experiencing domestic abuse, with evidence of impact and improved outcomes.
The Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) is viewed as a key strength. Led by Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire Police, the MASH was found to be an effective arena for information sharing and joint working ensuring leaders from across all organisations have a good understanding of what is happening at the “front door.” The analysis of risk is considered and in cases identified within the MASH needing an immediate safeguarding discussion, inspectors saw a “swift and robust response.”
The daily domestic abuse conference call held in MASH, which is chaired by the police, and involves key practitioners discussing domestic abuse cases which have arisen during the previous 24 hours, was highlighted as good practice. The inspection found that this led to improved information-sharing, resulting in all agencies having awareness of emerging risks in relation to domestic abuse.
Wiltshire Police prioritises the reduction of risk and harm when responding to incidents. This is evident at all levels in the force and is leading to improved multi-agency working at the front line.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, often referred to as Clare’s Law, enables the police to disclose information to an applicant about previous violent offending by a new or existing partner. Wiltshire Police was a pilot force for the scheme and consistently uses it to help to protect the applicant from abuse.
In many cases multi-agency plans are used to drive forward progress leading to improved outcomes for children and families. It was clear to the inspectors that this good work had resulted in reducing the risk posed by offenders, and had helped to build positive relationships enabling children to live in a family where domestic abuse was no longer a feature of their lives.
Ofsted’s letter says Wiltshire Council has continued to improve the quality and consistency of core social work since the last inspection and the majority of the work reviewed during the inspection demonstrated the authority is undertaking “good, child-focused, timely assessments that consider risk based on an understanding of the child’s history.”
There was evidence of emergency departments completing detailed domestic abuse risk assessments and ‘thinking child’ when treating adults.
The Wiltshire Safeguarding Children Board (WSCB) was identified as promoting, co-ordinating and prioritising the work of statutory partners effectively in relation to domestic abuse. Mark Gurrey, Independent Chair, said: “The WSCB exists to oversee and scrutinise all safeguarding work with children in the county. As chair of the Board, I am really pleased that the inspectors have found such positive and effective work and evidenced good partnership activity. That said, domestic abuse is so widespread and has such powerful effects on children that we can never relax nor be complacent and I know partner agencies will continue to strive to continually improve their provision in this crucial area.”
Inspectors highlighted that the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Company have maintained an evident commitment to safeguarding children during their transformation period.
Other highlights identified by inspectors include:
- In adult substance misuse services, the assessment process following referral into the service is strong
- The Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) is well attended by partners and is well led
- The Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangement (MAPPA) process is also well supported by agencies
- The police have invested heavily in training frontline staff in the various strands of vulnerability. In all cases seen by inspectors there was good recording and recognition of risk
- Investment in the training of health staff in recognising domestic abuse results in good quality risk assessments and referrals from emergency departments.
The letter also states: “The challenge moving forward is to embed the improvements already achieved, to maintain the momentum and pace of change and to ensure a consistently strong approach.”
Inspectors highlighted significant progress made in all areas and tabled “minor” areas for improvement to enhance the changes already implemented.
These include the strengthening of written plans, better recording of the voice of young children and siblings, and managers ensuring there is always a clear record that strategy meetings have been considered, and a consistent approach is applied to ensure particular levels of safeguarding training have been undertaken.
Wiltshire Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, Laura Mayes said: “I am really pleased that inspectors recognised the council’s commitment and passion for driving forward improvements. The council has committed funding to ensure that there has been an increase in the numbers of permanent high-quality social workers.
“Inspectors recognised the continued improvements in safeguarding and that the council’s continuous improvement has been embedded and sustained. This demonstrates the progress we are making to achieve our aspiration to be outstanding.
“I am proud to work with colleagues and partners who share our passion and commitment to protecting vulnerable young children. We have a zero tolerance approach to domestic abuse across the whole partnership. This letter acknowledges how our joined up working is having a positive impact and I hope the findings from this inspection will increase the level of confidence that children and families will have in our services and will encourage them to seek support when this is needed.
“We take the areas for further improvement extremely seriously and we are committed to ensuring that all children including those living in challenging circumstances, are protected and have the right support to thrive and achieve their potential.”
Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Mike Veale said: “I am delighted that this effective partnership working has been recognised in this way.
“Wiltshire Police is committed to exploring opportunities to work with other agencies to ensure the people of Wiltshire are getting a high quality of service. This report illustrates how we are delivering an effective and meaningful service to victims and families affected by domestic abuse with our partners.
“Victims of domestic abuse are continuing to be more confident to come forward and report abuse. I hope that this report helps give other victims the confidence to come forward.
“Protecting the most vulnerable people in our society ranks high in our priorities and it is fantastic that this partnership’s relentless commitment to improvement has been recognised.
“We will continue working with our partners to ensure that all children are protected and have access to the support they need.”
Dr Peter Jenkins, Chair of NHS Wiltshire CCG, said: “NHS Wiltshire is committed to improving safeguarding practice within Wiltshire and working in partnership with the local authority, police and probation to maintain a culture of continuous learning and improvements in the safeguarding of children in Wiltshire.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson said: “Protecting those who are most vulnerable in our community has been a key component of my plan and will continue to be over the next four years.
“I support significant investment in this area in order for us to protect children and those experiencing domestic abuse.
“This report is a testament to the excellent joint working between police and other agencies. I am committed to championing this work, building on partnerships and further investing in domestic abuse services with the Local Authority.
“Congratulations to everyone working hard to protect vulnerable children.”
“Support is available to anyone experiencing domestic abuse, please call 101 or if you feel you are in immediate danger 999 to make initial contact with Wiltshire Police.”