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Ofsted gives damning report on Northants’ children’s services amidst financial uncertainty

Ofsted has written to Northamptonshire County Council after an inspection found that its children’s services had declined “significantly” in the last two years “against a backdrop of recent financial uncertainty.”

Children were found to be “not consistently or effectively assessed, supported or protected,” and there were concerns over workforce capacity, oversight and children’s case progression after an inspection of the services at its multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH).

Inspectors said that the authority’s financial uncertainty had led to significant shortfalls in social work capacity across the council’s services, which has resulted in “unmanageable caseloads and high volumes of unallocated and unassessed work.”

Senior leaders are said to be aware of “these serious weaknesses” and have taken remedial action to respond, but Ofsted said that “this has not been effective or with sufficient urgency or rigour.”

A new social care board had been set up to support improvements, but Ofsted said at the time of their inspection that 267 children in need of statutory assessment and social work intervention did not have an allocated social worker.

Since January, this number of unallocated children has fallen from 551, but in the cases sampled by inspectors, “there was no evidence of risk being identified, managed or robustly reviewed.”

Ofsted’s report said “this lack of oversight and poor management leaves children at potential risk of harm,” and that social workers and managers were taking too long to make decisions and were not consistently making good ones.

The report also referenced a fragile “instability in the workforce,” and “over-reliance on agency workers,” along with a vast number of other critical findings at the children’s services.

Ofsted requested an action plan responding to the worrying findings, and Northamptonshire CC has subsequently announced a “far reaching programme of improvements.”

Cabinet member for children, families and education Victoria Perry said the council knew that its children’s services were not working and that it would put this right.

She said: “It is clear from the findings from Ofsted that these failures in the system have taken place over the last two years and we are now completely focused on recovering from these failures.

“We are pleased the inspectors recognise the new senior leadership team in place at the council has begun to tackle the weaknesses in the service which have arisen since 2016.

“While we will need to focus on improvements in safeguarding it is also equally critical we do far better in early help and prevention.”

In a written ministerial statement to the Commons yesterday, communities secretary James Brokenshire announced he would be appointing an additional commissioner to the team. 

"Keeping vulnerable children safe is one of the most important duties local authorities carry out and any deterioration in the performance of Northamptonshire children’s services cannot continue," Brokenshire wrote.

Northamptonshire CC, who appointed a new chief of finance last month, became the first council in 20 years to issue a section 114 notice, which was followed by a second spending ban in July.

Image credit - Joe Giddens/PA Wire


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