Cumbria children’s services rated ‘inadequate’ for third time in four years

Cumbria County Council's children’s services department has been rated inadequate by Ofsted inspectors for the third time in four years.

Both the authority’s chief executive Diane Wood and Cllr Anne Burns, who has had responsibility for children’s services since 2011, offered their resignations in the wake of the report.

Council leader Cllr Stewart Young refused to accept the resignations, though Lyn Burns, the council’s assistant director for children and families, has stood down.

Inspectors from Ofsted found “serious failures” in the care of looked-after youngsters, with leadership also criticised.

The key findings are:

  • Services for Children in Care: inadequate;
  • Adoption performance: requires improvement;
  • Help for care leavers: requires improvement;
  • Leadership, management, and governance: inadequate;
  • Children who need help and protection: requires Improvement.

The previous inspection, in 2013, found widespread problems and concluded delays in dealing with issues were so bad some children were at risk. Children’s services were also rated as inadequate in 2012.

The inspectors then said the council could not be confident that the children it worked with were safe, however that service has now been upgraded to require improvement – which means children are no longer considered at risk.

Ofsted said in the most recent report: “There are widespread or serious failures in the delivery of services for looked-after children which result in their welfare not being safeguarded or promoted.”

The inspectors found that leaders and managers were unable to demonstrate sufficient understanding of failures in services for looked after children, and were ineffective in prioritising, challenging and making improvements in this service.

Officials from Ofsted and the Department for Education are now set to work with the council to improve the service.

The report says there are “insufficient resources” to meet the emotional and wellbeing needs of children in care; management oversight is weak, leaving poor practice unchallenged; and strategic planning to respond to child sexual exploitation and domestic abuse is underdeveloped.

“Social workers and managers have not had formal training in recognising child sexual exploitation,” the report says. “This means that the local authority cannot be assured there is a consistent response to it or that risks are recognised early enough.”

Wood told the BBC: "This is not acceptable, it's not what we want at the county council, but we have to be realistic about the journey we've been on.

"We're working with nearly 3,400 children in need of specialist services. When we were inspected in 2013, that was around child protection. Ofsted said they couldn't be certain children were safe.

"We had to prioritise this area and that is 'now requires improvement' [from 'inadequate'] and we had to prioritise our work with the local safeguarding board and that is also 'now requires improvement' [from 'inadequate'].

"That has meant services to looked-after children hasn't been given a greater priority. That was realistically where we thought we could get to."

Several strengths and improvements were also noted in the report. Local political leadership was praised for prioritising and investing in children’s services, creating additional social worker jobs, and the creation of an “early help” team, and a “social workers academy” to train a new generation of workers.

Gill Rigg, who chairs the independent Local Safeguarding Children Board, said: "My view is children are far safer now than they would have been a year ago."

(Image: County Hall, Kendal, Cumbria. Source: Alexander P Kapp)

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