A local authority has been rated ‘inadequate’ after senior leaders “lost focus” on providing good quality frontline services, and weaknesses in social work practice were identified by Ofsted.
The inspection report into Torbay council, published today, found that children “do not receive timely responses to their needs”, while thresholds for access to services were “not well understood or applied”.
“Children and families experience delay in gaining access to help and protection at referral, assessment and planning stages,” said inspectors, who also criticised a culture of “incident-led social work”.
“Social work intervention is too reactive and cases were seen where an appropriate response did not take place until risks had escalated or a significant incident had taken place,” the report said.
Ofsted said that, since the authority was rated adequate in 2013, “senior leaders have introduced initiatives and progressed a range of projects, but in doing so they have lost focus on the core task of ensuring good quality frontline services to children and families”.
The inspectorate said Torbay’s current interim director of children’s services, Richard Williams, aided by a stable management team, was beginning to challenge the workforce and focus on improvement and continuous learning. Inspectors noted that there was also sustained financial investment, a clear political commitment to improving the service, and a well-resourced workforce with manageable caseloads.
This is the second time in five years that Torbay’s children’s services have been rated inadequate, following a similar judgment in 2010. The report comes the month after David Cameron pledged to be tougher on authorities that showed persistent failings.
A joint statement by Torbay Council, Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, Devon and Cornwall Police and Torbay Safeguarding Children Board accepted the findings, and said an action plan was already in place.
“The improvements include: focusing on the delay that our children, young people and families receive from across all children’s services; increasing the number of permanent staff in key areas; developing staff to improve quality and consistency of service delivery; [and] using admin support to best support social work staff to improve practice and outcomes for children,” the statement said.