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Nearly a quarter of local authority children’s services ‘inadequate’

Children’s services at local authorities are failing vulnerable children, Ofsted has said, as its Social Care Annual Report shows that 24% of local authority children’s services were rated ‘inadequate’.

The report shows that 24% of the 87 local authorities inspected were rated ‘inadequate’ and 49% were rated ‘requires improvement’.

Local authorities had a far higher proportion of ‘inadequate’ ratings than other providers of children’s services. Just 1% of children’s homes were rated ‘inadequate’ and 2% were rated ‘requires improvement’. Similarly, 1% of fostering agencies were ‘inadequate’ and 14% were rated ‘requires improvement’.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said: “The picture of performance we are publishing today shows there is clearly an ongoing need for improvement. While we have seen some green shoots of progress, too many areas are still failing the children they are charged with protecting.”

Importance of leadership

Ofsted also said that good leadership was a more important factor than size, levels of deprivation and funding in providing high-quality children’s services.

It said that the best political leaders prioritised children’s services and provided support and scrutiny to senior managers and social workers.

However, just seven of the 87 local authorities were found to be outstanding for leadership, and 20 were found to be good.

Sir Michael said: “As I have said many times before, the driving factor that makes change happen at pace is good leadership. Areas that are letting children down must look to their higher performing counterparts with urgency, and follow their example.”

Under growing pressure

However, the report does say that children’s services are under growing pressure. Between 2010 and 2014, the 0-17 population in England grew by 4.9%. The proportion of looked after children increased from 57 in 10,000 to 60 in 2010-15, and the proportion of children on child protection plans increased from 35 to 43. In the same period, local authority spending on children’s centres and early years decreased by 38% and spending on youth services decreased by 53% because of pressures on council budgets.

Last year, a PSE investigation found that council cuts to children’s centres have varied across the country, with some cutting funding by as much as two-thirds.

It also said that social workers in 14 of the 87 local authorities had high caseloads, contributing to problems with services.

Some councils had taken action to tackle these problems. For example, after receiving two inadequate ratings from Ofsted, Somerset County Council hired 44 permanent social workers and 26 graduate social workers and reduced caseloads by a third.

The report also said that, although local safeguarding children boards could support multi-agency working to help safeguard children, one in five boards were failing to meet their statutory obligations.

Cllr Roy Perry, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Protecting children is one of the most important things that councils do, and high-profile crimes of abuse and neglect have brought sharply into focus the need for vigilance in the community. As a result, there are rightly thousands more children on the radar of social services now. But this is in a climate where local authority funding suffered major cuts during the last Parliament, and while councils have made tough choices in order to protect children’s services, the system is under significant strain.

“There can be no doubt that local government has the commitment and expertise required to turn around struggling services, without the need for externally imposed structures or operating models. Giving councils the time to establish solid foundations for improvement, learn from other authorities and embed new processes and learning is vital for them to move forward for the benefit of their local areas.”

First outstanding ratings

The report did, however, see the first ‘outstanding’ ratings being awarded to local authorities for the first time, to the London boroughs of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea.

Ofsted also opened a consultation on a new inspection framework, with local authorities receiving one inspection every three years unless they are rated ‘inadequate’.

Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said that although the results of the annual report were “concerning”, Ofsted’s single worded grading system “[told] a partial and excessively negative story that destabilises the very services it seeks to improve”.

He said ADCS would “work closely” with Ofsted on developing the new inspection framework.

To take part in the consultation, click here.

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