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Services for vulnerable children in Birmingham still ‘inadequate’

Services for vulnerable children in Birmingham still ‘inadequate’

🕔10.Mar 2015

Birmingham city council is one of seven local authorities where services for children at risk of sexual or violent abuse are inadequate, Ofsted confirmed today.

The findings in the watchdog’s second annual social care report do not come as a surprise.

Services for vulnerable children in Birmingham have been under Government special measures since 2007 and last year a Commissioner, Lord Norman Warner, was appointed to work with the city council in an effort to turn the failing department around.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore has named children’s safeguarding as his number one priority and will invest an additional £21.5 million this year in an effort to improve standards.

Ofsted warns that many local authorities and their partners are struggling to provide a good enough standard of help, care and protection for some of England’s most vulnerable children. The report highlights the difficulties authorities are facing within a children’s social care system under pressure, with increasing demand for services and continued intense public scrutiny.

The watchdog’s findings draw on over 5,600 inspections of a range of crucial social care services, including local authority children’s services, children’s homes, fostering services, adoption support agencies, secure training centres and residential family centres.

Although some authorities are performing well under difficult circumstances, over half of the local authorities inspected in 2013-14 are not yet good enough.

Of 43 inspections, seven authorities were found to be inadequate including Birmingham, with a further 26 requiring improvement.

Ten areas were judged to provide a good standard of care and protection for children and young people.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw – who in 2013 described Birmingham children’s social services as “an absolute disgrace” and described the city as one of the worst places in the developed world to bring up children – said:

The number of inadequate authorities remains broadly in line with previous years. We are particularly concerned that we found seven authorities to be inadequate.

The picture is unsettled however, with authorities rated inadequate changing over time, and some declining rapidly.

Today’s report therefore raises the question of how best to ensure effective oversight of the performance of authorities between Ofsted inspections.

At the seven failing local authorities, Ofsted found:

  • Children left vulnerable or at risk due to a lack of coordinated and decisive action at a local level
  • Instability in leadership and workforce with high staff turnover and vacancy rates
  • Managers and leaders did not oversee practice with the necessary rigour.

Immediate action, including Government intervention in places, was required as a result of the significant risks to children in these authorities.

Two local authorities previously deemed to be inadequate, Essex and Cambridgeshire, have now been judged to be good overall.

In those authorities judged to be good, inspectors found:

  • Strong leaders and managers have a relentless focus on outcomes for children
  • Social workers work directly with children and families at an early stage to prevent the need for further intervention
  • Managers and social workers have a discernible ‘grip’ on cases at all times
  • Managers have strong oversight of caseloads, vacancies, and a high quality of training and supervision

Sir Michael added:

Ofsted has raised the bar with robust, in-depth inspections of children’s services and we make no apology for this tougher stance. Children deserve no less than a good standard support from those charged with caring and protecting them.

Today’s report shows that although some authorities are working well for vulnerable children and young people, there is still room for significant improvement.

Today’s report also raises significant concerns about the weakness of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) in making sure partners work together to tackle safeguarding issues. Around three-quarters of those reviewed by Ofsted to date have been found to be less than good, including eight that were rated inadequate.

Volatility in the sector continues to cause concern – maintaining consistent leadership in children’s services is a challenge for many areas. Over the last year a third of local authorities had at least one change of Director of Children’s Services.

The annual report finds that high profile cases and increased awareness of child sexual exploitation mean that overall leaders are giving more strategic priority to the needs of children at risk of being exploited. However, some services are not yet sufficiently alert to the risks which children and young people face, or equipped to provide responsive services to meet their needs.

Ofsted has strengthened its focus on child sexual exploitation and on children who go missing in all single inspections. Inspectors are clear that local authorities should be found inadequate if they are not doing all they can to identify and tackle these issues.

A specialist team of Her Majesty’s Inspectors with expertise in child sexual exploitation has also been created to support inspections where it appears that the local authority is not effectively addressing the risk of child sexual exploitation.

Along with fellow inspectorates for the police, probation and health services, Ofsted has also announced that it will be introducing targeted joint local area inspections later this year to assess how well agencies work together to protect children. The new inspections will be targeted on specific areas or issues of concern, such as child sexual exploitation.

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