Government appoints commissioner to review ‘inadequate’ children’s services

Ofsted report also highlights high social work turnover and workloads at Croydon council, and a 'legacy of poor practice'

Croydon town centre
Photo: Croydon Council

The government has appointed a commissioner to consider the future of children’s services in Croydon, including whether they should be removed from council control.

The move comes after Ofsted inspectors found “widespread and serious failures” in the south London council’s children’s services, and judged them as ‘inadequate’ overall. The failures have left some children “at risk of significant harm”.

Inspectors said Croydon’s children’s services suffered from high staff turnover and workloads and had “deteriorated significantly” since they last visited five years ago.

In response, the Department for Education has appointed Eleanor Brazil as commissioner to review Croydon’s children’s services.

She will consider alternative delivery and governance arrangements for children’s social care services, including whether they should be removed from council control for a period of time, and will report to the DfE by 4 December.

‘Drift and delay’

Inspectors said there was a “legacy of poor practice characterised by drift and delay in the provision of key services”.

“Weak managerial oversight at all levels has not ensured that basic social work practice is of a good enough standard,” they said.

“Children do not receive robust and timely responses to ensure that risk is reduced and their needs are met.”

In its previous inspection in 2012, Croydon’s safeguarding arrangements and services for looked-after children were both rated as ‘adequate’.

High workloads and turnover

Croydon was required to take immediate action in “a small number of cases” identified by inspectors during their visit in June and July.

Inspectors said the high workloads of social workers in some teams present “a serious barrier to providing effective services for children”.

They added: “The turnover of staff in many teams, coupled with the many transition points, further inhibits the building of trusting relationships between social workers and children.”

Other concerns they raised included:

  • when children are missing or are at risk of sexual exploitation, poor recognition and response to these concerns is not reducing risk to them effectively
  • too few looked-after children who go missing are spoken to when they return
  • although strategic partnership understanding has improved, the response to children who are at risk from sexual exploitation is “underdeveloped”
  • too many children wait too long for a decision to be made about whether they need to be looked after, or they return home without sufficient support, leaving them “at risk of significant harm from neglectful parenting”
  • although most looked-after children live in stable foster placements where they are cared for well, many carers feel poorly supported and the fostering service is not compliant with all regulations
  • the range and coordination of early help provision for children and families are not fully established. Individual partner agencies are unclear about the early help offer and have not been involved in developing a shared approach to delivering services.
  • a “lack of challenge” from the local safeguarding children board “has not assisted in raising safeguarding standards”

External reviews

Ofsted said Croydon’s chief executive and current director of children’s services “recognised the breadth and depth” of the children’s services decline and commissioned “detailed external service reviews” when they were appointed in July 2016.

While Croydon was at a “very early stage in addressing the poor practice identified”, some improvements have been made, for example in the multi-agency safeguarding hub.

Inspectors said social workers saw children regularly in most cases, “although evidence of purposeful direct work is more limited”.

Asylum cases a priority

The council had made it a priority to effectively support the high number of unaccompanied asylum seekers in the area, they added, and a specialist team of social workers and managers “works closely and effectively with the Home Office to ensure a strong and caring initial response to children arriving alone in the country”.

Most care leavers were in education, employment or training and they reported “strong and consistent support” from personal advisers.

However, not enough young people lived with their foster carers after they turned 18, and too few care leavers had the opportunity to move to independent accommodation when they were ready to do so.

In a statement, Croydon Council said it was “addressing all the issues raised as a priority”.

Its chief executive has set up an improvement board, with an independent chair, to “oversee the delivery of the improvement programme and the council continues to work with Ofsted on an action plan”.

Council apology

Barbara Peacock, Croydon’s executive director of people, said: “We accept the findings of this report and are committed to making sure that we provide better support for our children and young people. I’m sorry that our services have not been good enough.

“We identified the need for improvements last year but despite working extremely hard to make these necessary changes, they have not delivered the impact we wanted.

“The report has shown the extent of work that is needed. Much of this work is already under way but we recognise there is a lot more to do and we are working with Ofsted to create an improvement plan to drive through those changes.

“So that we and residents can feel reassured about the safety of all the young people we are involved with we are reviewing cases and are taking immediate action where we do find issues to address.”

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5 Responses to Government appoints commissioner to review ‘inadequate’ children’s services

  1. Katie Politico September 6, 2017 at 8:01 am #

    Would caseloads and staff turnover be so high if children’s services nationally had not had their funding cut by 40% since 2010 when this government came into power? There are those, mainly Tories, who say effective service delivery has nothing to do with funding. This non-rational ideological argument suggests contempt for the electorate and is an insult to our intelligence. If I had 40% less cash to buy a car I would be forced to purchase a cheaper, less efficient model, possibly second hand. Of course it wouldn’t run so well or for so long as its better quality counterpart. Tory funding cuts together with benefits cuts, including in-work benefits, are therefore responsible for placing children in Croydon at risk of significant harm.

    • Jane jarrett September 8, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

      Well done Katie for saying exactly what I was thinking when reading the article! How is it possible not to acknowledge the affect of austerity on our public services. Instead of blaming all the mostly hardworking and committed staff trying to keep services running, we should be shouting louder about the lack of support from the govt. whether it be health, education or social care, it is always the workers who get blamed for not doing their jobs well enough – when if it wasn’t for the goodwill they have towards the people they work with, they would have left their profession a long time ago.

  2. Planet Autism September 6, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

    “although most looked-after children live in stable foster placements where they are cared for well, many carers feel poorly supported and the fostering service is not compliant with all regulations”

    Most notable is the absence of any statement regarding support whilst children are in birth family care, which may well avoid the need to become looked after children in the first place. Where did this country become so lost when it comes to early help to avoid crises?

  3. Nicola September 6, 2017 at 6:51 pm #

    Sadly the executive director has not been worth the money she demanded. It clearly states that this LA failing is around weak management oversight and that comes from the top down. Poor practice right across all areas from early help to care leavers. It really needs to have a good overhaul of the senior management on £100000 plus and more resources in at ground level so the families in this LA get an adequate service at least.

  4. Professor John Pitts September 7, 2017 at 7:16 pm #

    While recognising that, like other local authorities, Croydon is a victim of funding cuts the main criticism of the authority concerned the ineffectiveness of management, ‘at all levels’, rather than staff shortages. This problem was apparent in Croydon well before the ‘Executive Director of People’ was appointed to her £160,000 p.a. post and it is not unreasonable to expect that a major role, perhaps the major role, of an incoming Executive Director of People would be to address this problem as a matter of urgency. Yet after a year in post, little if anything had changed. At the time of her appointment there was talk in the council of the need to pay a high salary to attract the most talented managers.Clearly this strategy has not worked raising the question of whether those responsible for the problem should be left in post to oversee the rescue operation.