Weak leadership ‘undermining child protection efforts’

15 Oct 13

Many councils are struggling to improve their child protection services and need better leadership to bring about sustained improvement in performance, Ofsted has warned today.

The watchdog’s first ever Social care annual report found that, at the end of the three-year cycle of inspections, only 40% of local authorities inspected were judged to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ for safeguarding children.
 
Twenty local authorities, 13% of those inspected, were judged ‘inadequate’ for child protection arrangements at the time of their most recent inspection.
 
The report said that the nationwide map of poor performance was ‘complex and changing’. However, inspectors found a persistent absence of stable leadership in the most inadequate local authorities.
 
In particular, the most basic acceptable practices were not in place in the weakest councils, and supervision and management oversight were ineffective. Support from key statutory partners – health, police, schools – was also found to be weak and poorly co-ordinated.
 
Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said that, as it stands today, 20 authorities have standards of child protection that were unacceptably poor.
 
‘Incompetent and ineffective leadership must be addressed quickly,’ he said. ‘But where those in leadership positions have capacity and potential, this must be recognised and nurtured.
 
‘Too much leadership volatility in social care is counter-productive – that goes without saying. One in three local authorities had a change in their director of children’s services last year alone. The combination of unstable communities and political and managerial instability in our social care services is a dangerous mix.’
 
Ofsted’s national director for social care Debbie Jones added that the picture of performance showed ‘an ongoing need for improvement’.
 
She stated: ‘Some services are increasingly expert at reducing risk, helping families to look after their children and enabling children at risk in their area to make good progress.
 
‘It can be done, and therefore it must be done in all areas, equally well.’
 
Ofsted is currently revising its social care inspection regime to assess services based on the difference professional practice is making to a child, young person or family. Inspectors now evaluate the performance of local authorities as an ‘end-to-end’ process – from first contact to leaving care.
 
Responding to the report, the Local Government Association said that councils take their responsibility to protect children ‘incredibly seriously’.
 
Chair of the LGA’s children and young people board David Simmonds said heinous crimes of neglect and abuse have brought sharply into focus the need for vigilance.
 
‘As a result there are tens of thousands more children on the radar of social services than seven years ago. The number of looked-after children under the care and supervision of local authorities is now higher than at any point in almost 30 years.
 
‘Councils know they have a key role to play in looking after children but it is not a job which they can do alone. It is everyone’s responsibility to keep children safe from harm. The aim must now be to create a culture of moral responsibility in which people know how to raise the alarm and feel confident that if they come forward with legitimate concerns those concerns will be dealt with in a swift, proportionate and effective way.’
 
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social workers, said government should take action to improve services.
 
‘Unison has warned time and again that staff freezes, unmanageable case loads and a massive increase in referrals are a toxic combination and vulnerable children are suffering as a result.
 
‘This government is cutting budgets so hard that councils are faced with impossible choices of where the axe should fall. We need a well-funded service to encourage staff retention, with a higher ratio of qualified, trained staff and proper supervision put in place.
 
‘Social workers want to be able to spend more time with families in need and less time at their desks.’

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