Inspectors criticise ‘significant deterioration’ of practice in ‘inadequate’ children’s services

Ofsted said senior leaders in the London borough of Newham were failing in their duties to children in care and care leavers

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Ofsted inspectors have criticised senior leaders for “failing in their duties” and overseeing a “significant deterioration” in the quality of children’s services now branded ‘inadequate’.

Inspectors found “significant practice deficits” in Newham’s children’s services, and that senior leaders had a lack of child focus, which led to the standard of social work practice deteriorating “significantly”.

“This failure of leadership has resulted in serious failures in practice, which were identified during the inspection, most notable for children requiring permanence and for a high number of care leavers,” the report found.

It said there was no embedded learning culture in Newham, and “little evidence” senior leadership was listening to child and family feedback to improve the service.

“A number of staff reported to inspectors that they feel disconnected from senior leaders,” the report said.

Ofsted highlighted some strengths in services for children in need of help and protection, rated ‘requires improvement’, where it found children were appropriately safeguarded and effective work was undertaken to help reduce risk and address their needs. It heard that most staff felt supported by their teams and the local authority’s training and support package.

However, it found thresholds were “inconsistently applied” and partners described them as “unclear and at times unpredictable”.

The report concluded: “Overall, social workers are not working in an environment in which good social work is encouraged and able to develop and flourish. Progress has been made in reducing caseloads of staff, but these remain too high in several teams to enable good social work to flourish.”

Investment and political support

Despite inspectors’ negative assessment the report highlighted how political and corporate support had recently been strengthened in Newham alongside “substantial” investment.

“This scrutiny and challenge is vital to support improvement to children’s services in Newham,” Ofsted said.

Responding to the report, mayor of Newham, Rokshana Fiaz, apologised to children and their families for “unacceptable failings” and said there would be an immediate action plan put in place.

“We have made improvements during my first 10 months as mayor, and my budget last month saw the council agree to the greatest investment in services for Newham’s children and young people in a generation,” the report said.

Measures taken so far, the Mayor said, include £10.6 million of investment in children’s services, a service improvement plan, more opportunities for children to take part in their care planning and stepping up senior managers’ interactions with social workers to ensure the voices of frontline staff are heard.

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