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Ofsted critical of council-run children’s services

Child social care in more than three-quarters of local authorities inspected by Ofsted last year have been rated “inadequate” or “requires improvement”. 

The watchdog has now completed inspections of almost a third of all local authorities in England, under the single inspection framework which it introduced in 2013. Of the 43 inspections, 10 local authorities were judged good, seven were inadequate and the remaining 26 were judged as requires improvement.

The seven judged “inadequate” in this latest report are: Birmingham; Buckinghamshire; Coventry Knowsley; Manchester Rotherham and Slough. 

Drawing on more than 5,600 inspections on a range of social care services, Ofsted was particularly concerned that in the seven authorities rated “inadequate” children were left vulnerable or at risk due to a lack of coordinated and decisive action at a local level and there was instability in the leadership and workforce. 

It has called for immediate action, including government intervention in places, as a result of the significant risks to children in these authorities. 

Many of the weaker authorities inspected shared problems, in particular a lack of early and direct action to support families. 

Alan Wood, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, told PSE: “Our members value the robust and effective inspection of our services as part of the continuous improvement journey and we welcome some of the more constructive comments made about the services we lead and deliver in this report. 

“Regrettably, because this is largely a progress report on the new model for social care inspection, the Single Inspection Framework (SIF), and because we believe the SIF is flawed, the same applies to this report. The UK has one of the safest child protection systems in the developed world yet the results of the SIF inspections undertaken to date suggest that the services of over 70% of authorities are not yet good enough. This is simply is not credible. 

“We believe this framework does not get to the heart of how well services are working, and, with a single worded judgement it tells a partial and excessively negative story, which runs the risk of weakening the very services it seeks to improve.”

The report has also raised significant concerns about the weakness of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) in making sure partners work together to tackle safeguarding issues. Around three-quarters of those reviewed by Ofsted to date have been found to be less than good, including eight that were rated inadequate. 

Debbie Jones, Ofsted’s national director for social care, added: “Inspectors have seen examples of high quality practice which puts the outcomes for children at the heart of decision-making.

“We recognise, however, the context and constraints within which social workers and their managers work - they have a difficult and demanding role and do not always get the support and recognition they deserve.” 

Ofsted added that England’s children’s social care sector remains under intense pressure, and the increasing demands on the system are stark. In the last year it says:

  • the number of children in need increased by 5% to 397,600
  • the number of child protection plans increased by 12% to 48,300
  • the number of children being looked after by local authorities increased by 1% and is now at its highest level since 1987. 

Stretched budgets are also putting additional strain on these crucial services. 

Responding to the report, the Local Government Association’s chairman of the Children and Young People Board, Cllr David Simmonds, said: “Protecting children is one of the most important jobs councils do and this report restates the pressure the system is under. Children's services are creaking under the strain as they work to protect the most vulnerable children from abuse, neglect and child sexual exploitation. 

“Councils know they have a key role to play in looking after children but it is not a job which they can do alone. We need a million eyes and ears looking out for our young people. Far too many times social workers hear of abuse too late, when we need to be intervening earlier." 

A Department for Education spokesperson added that nothing is more important than keeping children safe. “That’s why we have worked relentlessly to transform the life chances of our most vulnerable children and our plan is working – something this report makes clear,” he said. 

Leicester shake-up 

Yesterday, Leicester City Council announced an “immediate shake-up” of children’s social care services in Leicester following a “botched review” and “inadequate leadership”. 

City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said a poorly-managed review of frontline social workers in the summer of 2014 resulted in more than 30 leaving the authority in the autumn, during which time vulnerable children were put at risk by not being allocated the social workers they needed. 

Former head of department Elaine McHale has been dismissed, while assistant mayor Vi Dempster has stood down. Cllr Dempster was the councillor with overall responsibility for the department. 

Sir Peter said: “A botched review and inadequate leadership have resulted in a situation where children have potentially been put at risk and this cannot be tolerated.” 

An Improvement Board is now being established which will monitor the progress of the council’s improvement plan, currently being developed. 

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