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”
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”.
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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