Ofsted finds weak leadership is failing children in social care

29 Jun 16

Weak leadership in England’s child services is letting down the most vulnerable children in society, according to an Ofsted report.

In the third Social Care Annual Report, published on Tuesday, the inspectorate found that 21 children’s services departments – one quarter of those inspected – were rated ‘inadequate’, while a further 43 required improvement.  

In a statement, Ofsted said that many of the areas rated inadequate received the lowest rating in help and protection, the part of the system that gauges the risks to children and takes action to protect them. It identified this area as presenting “the greatest challenge to the children’s social care system as a whole.”

The watchdog said poor performance was not a function of size, deprivation or funding. It was, rather, the standard of leadership that made the difference, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said. The annual report shows an ongoing need for improvement, he added.

“While we have seen some green shoots of progress, too many areas are still failing the children they are charged with protecting.”

The “driving factor that makes changes happen at pace is good leadership”, he stated while he also credited the impact of “ambitious ideas based on sound research” which can be the foundation for making rapid improvements to local authority children’s services.

Organisations demonstrated strong leadership by creating systems and a culture that “enabled high quality social work to flourish”, found the report, while capable leaders understood the skills and qualities the workforce needed to do their jobs well.

In high performing areas, children do not have to wait for help and support, and social workers are given time to work with families.

The London boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster, received ‘outstanding’ ratings, the first time under the current Ofsted inspection regime. ‘Good’ ratings were given to 21 authorities.

Ofsted also reported that once children were in the social care system, they are often “well cared for.” Children whose needs have not been recognised – or support for whom has been too superficial – are those needed attention.

Wilshaw urged underperforming areas to copy best practice from their peers, to learn how to deliver services more effectively.

Responding to the report, councillor Roy Perry, chairman of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, agreed it was “vital” for councils to “learn from other authorities and embed new processes and learning.”

But he said councils, which had faced budget cuts, could solve their own problems. Local government, he said, had the commitment and expertise to turn around struggling services “without the need for externally imposed structures or operating models.”

He also praised the “unreported excellence of social workers across the country”, and pointed to the fact the number of children dying due to assault or homicide had fallen by 69% in England since 1985.

Meanwhile, Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children Services, criticised the “single worded” Ofsted rating system, which presents “a partial and excessively negative story that destabilises the very services it would seek to improve.”

He added that it was helpful to know what ‘outstanding’ looked like, but cautioned that what worked in one area may not work in another.

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