Inspectors critical of Southwark services

Serious concerns have been raised about Southwark Council’s
children’s and families service in a report published by the Social
Services Inspectorate.

The report, based on a three-week inspection of the London
Borough carried out in January this year, found that thresholds for
accessing family support services were very high and the quality of
child protection cases variable.

“We had concerns that in some cases children were not properly
safeguarded,” inspectors concluded. “There was evidence that some
child protection cases were defined as children in need of family
support. There was also concern in some chronic neglect cases that
effective intervention had been delayed.”

The service was also failing to review child protection and
looked-after children’s cases within statutory timescales, the
report adds.

Problems were partly attributed to the difficulties the council
had experienced in recruiting social workers and the numbers of
relatively inexperienced social workers new to their posts.

“This, along with having a large number of looked-after children
caused cases to become stuck in both referral and assessment teams
and the family support teams, reducing effectiveness,” the report

Services provided by the district teams were also “under
considerable pressure”, and inspectors found “little evidence of
family support work in the district teams outside of cases where
there were obvious child protection concerns”.

However, the council was praised for its joint planning
arrangements, its good relations with other agencies, its
commitment to providing inclusive services, and its “wide range of
innovative services designed to support children looked after”
developed in partnership with education and health agencies, using
Quality Protects and mental health grant funding.

While the inspectors felt children were not coming into the
looked-after system inappropriately, they still saw that there was
a need to review the balance of resources between services to
ensure that preventive services could be more effective. However,
they warned this would “not be easily or quickly achieved”.

The inspectors said change would not be easy “given the
financial constraints facing the service”.

An action plan finalised by the committee last week to address
the report’s 26 recommendations included the appointment this month
of an independent specialist child protection adviser, the
establishment of a timetable of internal professional auditing for
all activity including child protection work, extra training, and
stricter management controls with respect to visits and

The area child protection committee structure and function have
also been reviewed, and updated procedures and protocols are due to
be launched in the autumn. A workforce planning strategy is due to
be launched by the council in October.

Chris Bull, Southwark’s director of social services, welcomed
the report. “Throughout the report there is recognition that there
is ‘management grip’ on each area of weakness and the efforts which
are being made to deal with them have been noted.”

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