Social workers in Walsall are not taking children into care quickly enough according to a recent damning Ofsted report.
Inspectors rated the metropolitan council’s safeguarding performance as “inadequate” as was the council’s ability to improve and its children’s services leadership.
The report also concluded that many of the problems faced by the council were caused by issues recruiting social workers, forcing a reliance on inexperienced agency staff.
Labour councillors in Walsall told Community Care that poor pay had been a significant issue in the failure to recruit, although the council had recently revised pay rates for social workers.
Walsall’s director of children’s services, Pauline Pilkington, has resigned and will leave as soon as a successor has been identified as the council attempts to avoid a government improvement notice.
Council member for Walsall’s children and young people’s services, Rachel Andrew also hit out at Ofsted’s current inspection regime, claiming: “It is true to say we feel we have been judged against a tougher than ever set of criteria.”
Her claims echo fears aired in local government press recently in which several councils claimed Ofsted’s new inspection regime has moved the goal posts. Unpublished Ofsted inspection reports allegedly prove that five out of 24 councils who have had safeguarding inspections this year have already been found inadequate.
However, a spokesperson for Ofsted denied the claims. “We haven’t changed any criteria and continue to inspect against the same criteria, making judgements on the evidence gathered by inspectors.”
Ofsted found Walsall’s child protection workers were failing to assess children’s circumstances in sufficient depth, were paying too little attention to risk and, in some cases, taking too long to take children into care.
It also found significant weaknesses across the council’s practices and management of services.
In addition it criticised the local police service, highlighting that on a number of occasions police officers had not attended child protection statutory meetings which had contributed to excessive delays in some cases.
Councillor Mike Bird, the leader of Walsall’s council coalition, said as difficult as the findings were “we will fix things and we are already working closely with our partners to ensure we meet the challenge ahead”.