Ill-equipped workforce a factor in council’s ‘inadequate’ rating, Ofsted finds

Lancashire children's services had "serious" child protection failures, the watchdog found

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Photo: Cultura/REX Shuttershock (posed by model)

A council’s children’s services have been rated ‘inadequate’ after Ofsted identified “serious” child protection failures.

Ofsted said children’s services in Lancashire had “significantly deteriorated” since they were found to be ‘good’, with some outstanding features, in March 2012.

Three children who were receiving children in need services died during the Ofsted inspection in September and October. While investigations are at an early stage and it is “too soon to establish if their deaths could have been prevented”, Ofsted found that “some of the practice was poor” in these cases.

Ofsted identified “widespread concerns” with practice, which included not involving other key agencies at all stages of child protection enquiries, practitioners assessing risk without reference to, or knowledge of, significant history, and complex work being allocated to practitioners with “insufficient qualifications or experience”.

Turnover

The inspectorate also said that significant staff turnover, largely due to internal promotions after a restructure in April, “has resulted in an inexperienced workforce covering a broad range of work requiring more detailed and specialist knowledge than it is often equipped to offer”.

It also found: “Following assessment by qualified social workers, much child in need work, including some complex cases, is held by family support workers. Inspectors found systemic weaknesses in management oversight of this work, with no checkpoints or protocols for qualified workers to regularly review or update families’ circumstances to ensure that risk continues to be managed at an appropriate level.”

Ofsted recommended that the council ensures all child protection investigations are conducted by suitably skilled, knowledgeable and experienced social workers, and that a strategy is developed to address the needs of the workforce, which includes supplying required levels of support and supervision for newly qualified staff.

£5 million investment

The council said it has begun a series of measures to address the concerns in the report. This includes a £5 million investment, which will focus on recruiting more frontline staff and providing extra training opportunities.

Jo Turton, chief executive of Lancashire council, said: “The report should not detract from the fact we have hundreds of staff working hard under often difficult circumstances.

“Our plans focus on increasing support to those staff, through IT and training, so they are able to dedicate more of their time to looking after the children and young people they are there to help,” she said.

Doncaster, Medway and Hertfordshire 

Ofsted published inspection reports on another three local authorities today.

Doncaster’s outsourced children’s trust was rated ‘inadequate’ because of child protection weaknesses, but inspectors noted signs of improvement.

Medway was judged to be ‘requires improvement’, a grade better than its previous inspection, and was praised for good quality care leaver support. However, inspectors said the proportion of agency staff caused “disrupted social work relationships for some children”.

Hertfordshire was rated ‘good’ overall, and Ofsted complimented the council’s governance and its timely early help support services for children and families.

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