More than three quarters of local authorities are not providing a good standard of children’s social care, Ofsted has revealed.
The watchdog’s second annual social care report, published today, showed only 10 of 43 children’s services inspected in 2013-14 were delivering good quality care. Seven were providing inadequate services and 26 required improvement.
The full report draws findings from more than 5,600 inspections of local authority children’s services, children’s homes, fostering services, adoption support agencies and more. It concluded that councils and their partners are “struggling” to provide a good enough standard of care and protection for children.
Strong leaders and direct work
In the authorities rated good, inspectors found strong leaders and managers who had a relentless focus on outcomes for children. Social workers were working directly with children and families at early stages, professionals had a constant ‘grip’ on cases and managers had strong oversight on issues like caseloads, vacancies, training and supervision.
Authorities judged to be requiring improvement needed to demonstrate this kind of practice more consistently, Ofsted reported. Social workers in these councils were receiving inconsistent oversight, support and challenge from their managers.
For every £1 authorities were spending on preventative services, they were spending £4 on reactive child protection work, the report found, while families who did not meet high thresholds for further investigation were often not receiving any help at all.
Missing children miss out
Although child sexual exploitation is being prioritised more highly, inspectors found councils are not yet equipped to provide responsive services that meet children’s needs. Despite their enhanced vulnerability, looked-after children who go missing still receive poor support.
Debbie Jones, Ofsted director of social care, said Ofsted recognises “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”.
She urged councils to learn from the good practice demonstrated in the best local authorities, and said Ofsted will support local authorities to make the improvements that children need.
The report also raised significant concerns about the weakness of local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) in making sure partners are working together. Three-quarters of LSCBs did not meet a good standard, Ofsted ruled, while eight were rated inadequate.
Ofsted has now called on the government to clarify and strengthen the responsibilities of LSCBs to ensure effective local oversight.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has claimed the report is “simply not credible”.
Alan Wood, president of the association, said: “The UK has one of the safest child protection systems in the developed world, yet the results of the [Single Inspection Framework] inspections undertaken to date suggest that the services of over 70% of authorities are not yet good enough.”
The ADCS believes Ofsted’s current framework is flawed and does not get to the heart of how services are working.
‘Back to basics’ review of Ofsted
David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, called for a “back to basics” review of Ofsted, claiming there are “big question marks” over the quality of its judgements.
“We are concerned that by trying to be an improvement agency as well as an inspectorate, Ofsted is marking its own homework,” he said.
Simmonds also highlighted the pressure on children’s services in an economic climate where councils have faced budget cuts of 40% since 2010.
He said: “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 the adequate resources we need to get on with the vital job of protecting children.”
“Councils know they have a key role to play in looking after children, but it is not a job they can do alone. We need a million eyes and ears looking out for our young people. Far too many times social workers hear of abuse too late, when we need to be intervening earlier.”