Ofsted finds councils struggling with child protection demands

10 Mar 15
Many councils are struggling to protect vulnerable children amid funding pressures and increasing public scrutiny on social care services following failures in places such as Rotherham, an analysis by Ofsted has found.

The watchdog’s annual social care report concluded that over half of local authority children’s services inspected in 2013/14 were not good enough.

However, the Local Government Association said the credibility of Ofsted itself was questionable following problems in Rotherham and the ’Trojan Horse’ investigation in Birmingham.

In today’s analysis, Ofsted said it had carried out 43 full inspections in 2013/14, of which only ten areas were judged to provide a good standard of care and protection for children and young people. Seven authorities were found to be inadequate, with a further 26 requiring improvement.

Inspectors concluded that there were examples of best practice that could be replicated from well-performing areas, such as a ‘relentless focus’ on outcomes for children, and social workers working with children and families at an early stage to prevent the need for further intervention.

In these good authorities, social workers had a discernible ‘grip’ on cases at all times, Ofsted concluded, with managers having strong oversight of caseloads, vacancies, and a high quality of training and supervision.

The 26 authorities judged to require improvement were not consistently demonstrating this kind of good practice across all their work. Although children were not immediately at risk, inspectors often found that managers were not overseeing practice consistently, and there was inconsistent challenge and support for social workers.

Many weaker authorities inspected shared problems, in particular a lack of early and direct action to support families, the report added. Many areas had missed earlier opportunities to intervene or lacked clarity on who had the responsibility to do so.

Debbie Jones, Ofsted’s national director for social care, said inspectors have seen examples of high quality practice that puts the outcomes for children at the heart of decision-making.

‘These areas demonstrate that it can be done, so we urge other authorities to learn from their example.

‘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.’

The report also found that high-profile cases of child sexual exploitation, such as the case in Rotherham, had increased awareness of this problem.

However, inspections found some services were not yet sufficiently alert to the risks face by children and young people, or equipped to provide responsive services to meet their needs. In particular, it highlighted that responses for looked-after children who go missing were still lacking, despite this group being particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Responding to the report, LGA children and young people board chair David Simmonds said protecting children is one of the most important jobs councils do but they could not do so alone.

‘Children’s services are creaking under the strain as they work to protect the most vulnerable children from abuse, neglect and child sexual exploitation.

‘In an NHS system failing to cope with winter pressures, the government recently pledged £2bn to alleviate the crisis. We need Whitehall to redress the balance and give us adequate resources we need to get on with the vital job of protecting children.’

Simmonds also reiterated concerns over Ofsted’s role. ‘Parents, communities and councillors need to have confidence in the credibility and independence of Ofsted’s judgments.

‘There is a need for an urgent, back-to-basics review of Ofsted, as there are big question marks over the quality of judgements following what has happened in Rotherham and Birmingham, among others. We are concerned that by trying to be an improvement agency as well as an inspectorate, Ofsted is marking its own homework.’

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