The watchdog’s first stand-alone social care annual report shows that only one in four local authorities has been rated ‘good’ at safeguarding children in the last three years, and the standard of child protection was found to be ‘unacceptably poor’ in 20 councils.In the weakest councils, Ofsted found that:
- The most basic acceptable practice was not in place
- Supervision, management oversight, purposeful work with families and decisive action where children were at risk from harm were ineffective
- The views of children and families were rarely considered
- Support from key statutory partners such as health, police and schools was weak and poorly coordinated
- Managers did not appear to have a firm understanding of what constituted good practice
The report suggests that changes to senior leadership in children’s services have had a detrimental effect on the quality of provision.
One in three local authorities has seen a new director of children’s services installed in the last year.
Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said, ‘Incompetent and ineffective leadership must be addressed quickly. 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.’
He warned, ‘The combination of unstable communities and political and managerial instability in our social care services is a dangerous mix.’
Meanwhile Unison, the UK’s largest union, has blamed the Government’s council cuts for the failures in child protection services.
Helga Pile, Unison national officer for social workers, said, ‘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.’
The 20 councils in which the standard of child protection was found to be ‘unacceptably poor’ are: Barnsley, Bexley, Birmingham, Blackpool, Calderdale, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire East. Cumbria, Devon, Doncaster, Herefordshire, Isle of Wight, Kingston upon Thames, Medway, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Rochdale, Sandwell, Slough and Somerset.