Vulnerable children ‘not listened to’ in ‘inadequate’ authority, Ofsted finds

Pace of change 'too slow' in local authority's children's services according to Ofsted inspection

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A children’s service has been judged to be ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted inspectors after it found that risks of long-term chronic neglect or domestic abuse were “not recognised” for some children.

Inspectors who visited Torbay children’s services saw how, in a small number of cases, child protection medicals were not pursued despite disclosures of physical abuse.

“This means that children are not listened to and the extent of their injuries are unknown,” Ofsted said in its report published this week.

This is the second consecutive occasion where inspectors have rated Torbay’s children’s services as ‘inadequate’, and it said not enough improvements had been made since its previous inspection in 2015.

“Overall, the pace of change has been too slow and some recommendations from the previous inspection are not met,” Ofsted said. It added there were “fundamental weaknesses remain in management oversight and supervision and in identification of and response to risk, as well as workforce development and capacity”.

‘Frequent changes of social workers’

The report highlighted how the quality of social work practice had been negatively affected by “frequent changes of social workers, all of whom are dealing with a range of complex cases”.

“For example, visits to some children do not adhere to recommended timescales. The quality of assessments and plans are poor, and, until very recently, legal action has not been instigated soon enough to remove some children from risk of harm.”

Steps had been taken to mitigate this problem, inspectors noted, as all vacancies had been filled, in some cases by agency staff, and the council had brought in extra agency workers to take the workforce above ‘establishment’ to help reduce caseloads.

The inspection found increasing stability in the workforce, but it criticised a failure to do exit interviews to understand why social workers leave.

It found some improvements in help and protection services, such as decision-making in the multi-agency safeguarding hub and early help services but concluded there was “weak managerial oversight at all levels”.

“This is characterised by unacceptable drift and delay in progressing work…A significant number of children have remained without the help and protection that the need, sometimes for several months,” the report said.

Strengthen management oversight

While inspectors met some “very skilled and committed social workers”, the report said action must be taken to create an environment to carry out effective social worker.

There needed to be immediate action to strengthen supervision and management oversight, and to ensure children were seen within prescribed timescales and seen alone, Ofsted found.

Children’s services in Torbay have operated under a joint arrangement with Plymouth council since earlier this year. The director of children’s services, Alison Botham, expressed disappointment with the judgement from Ofsted, but said they were implementing recommendations requiring immediate action.

“The inspection was rightly challenging, thorough and rigorous. In addition to making clear recommendations for further action, the report also recognises improvements that have been made to date. I believe that the new arrangement provides a sound basis for a better pace of consistent and sustained improvement,” Botham said.

John Coughlan, a government-appointed commissioner whose report prompted the Torbay and Plymouth agreement, said the inspection was “disappointing” but he knew staff and managers had worked hard.

“Personally, I am convinced by the evidence that recent progress has been made in both management and practice and I am sure that children in Torbay are safer now than they were two years ago. But that is still not good enough and there is no question that all concerned must consider these inspection findings openly and with renewed commitment to further improvement.”

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