Serious and widespread weaknesses in Buckinghamshire children’s services have led to it receiving its second ‘inadequate’ rating in a row from Ofsted.
The latest inspection of the service found that efforts to improve it since a 2014 ‘inadequate’ rating have been inconsistent, slow and piecemeal.
Inspectors found that high turnover of social workers, high caseloads in some teams and poor case recording were key factors behind the service’s poor performance and was causing some children to be left at risk in unsuitable circumstances for too long.
Following the inspection, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said the government would appoint a commissioner to work with Buckinghamshire and make a recommendation on what would best improve the service.
Management oversight of practice was weak and some child protection cases were being closed too soon, despite a lack of evidence of changes in circumstances, leading to children being re-referred, Ofsted warned.
Assessments were found to be too descriptive of families’ circumstances and pay too little attention to the needs that arise from children’s culture, race or ethnicity.
The service also had an over-optimistic attitude towards the ability of written agreements and contracts of expectations to deliver change in families.
Ofsted said the council should take “immediate action to improve the quality of management oversight and decision-making at all levels to make sure that children’s plans are properly progressed”.
It also advised Buckinghamshire to address the quality of assessments and planning and ensure its social workers get the training they need to keep their knowledge and practice up to date.
Despite the criticisms, Ofsted reported that Buckinghamshire’s adoption service was ‘good’ and delivering excellent support to adopters when needed.
It also noted that the turnover of social workers had been reduced and that the council had recently put a strong senior leadership team in place to help address its problems.
Councillor Warren Whyte, the cabinet member for children’s services at Buckinghamshire, said: “I am extremely disappointed and concerned with the outcome, and the council fully accepts the findings of the report.
“It is clear that some of our services are still not good enough yet and the pace of improvement in some key areas has been too slow. It is our collective responsibility to make sure we put this right.”
“Above all else, my message to the children and families we support is that we remain resolute and determined to improve.
“We are very fortunate in Buckinghamshire to have a committed workforce who understand what we need to do to improve our services and one of our immediate priorities is to guide and support then to improve the services that we offer.”
A Department for Education spokesperson: “We are appointing a Commissioner to inform our decision about next steps on how best to secure rapid and sustainable improvement so that children and families in Buckinghamshire have access to high quality services. The Commissioner will make a recommendation as to next steps which will be considered by the department.”
Commissioners are appointed by the government after evidence of persistent failure to deliver good services. In the past their recommendations have been to keep services in house, remove the service from council control and place it into an independent children’s trust, or enlist the support of another council as an improvement partner.