Service 'is not good enough'

February 24 2017

DOWNEND councillor Jon Hunt has apologised following a damning Ofsted report which revealed "critical weaknesses" in South Gloucestershire Council's services to vulnerable children.

DOWNEND councillor Jon Hunt has apologised following a damning Ofsted report which revealed "critical weaknesses" in South Gloucestershire Council's services to vulnerable children.

Councillor Hunt, the chairman of the authority's Children, Adults and Health Committee, spoke following a shock report published by the Government watchdog which rated the council's services to children in need of help and protection as "inadequate".

The 47-page report has led to calls from Unison for an inquiry into how the authority's children's services have been allowed to reach this point.

Inspectors published the report following a four-week inspection last November and December for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers. While adoption services were rated good, it concludes that overall services in South Gloucestershire are inadequate.

A total of 973 children have been identified as needing the council's children's services.

Councillor Hunt said: “I share the disappointment in the outcome and I feel it is only right to apologise to those children and their families who have not received help and support quickly enough. The needs of children, especially vulnerable children and their families must always come first."

Ofsted highlighted a requirement to urgently review all cases currently or recently allocated to managers within its 0 to 25 disability service. 

The report says "too many vulnerable children with disabilities have been left without adequate help or protection. As a result, children have been left in situations of unmet need and unassessed risk".

Peter Murphy, director of Children, Adults and Health at the council said: "Naturally we are deeply disappointed with the outcome but we are determined to improve services for children and young people. What I can assure you of is that we are already taking steps to bring about rapid improvement, which is acknowledged by Ofsted in the report. We have set up an improvement board specifically looking at our 0 to 25 disability service to ensure the needs of our most vulnerable children and young people are being met. This remains a top priority for the council and a robust improvement plan is being developed to address all the recommendations in the report.

"We are reviewing how we identify children who may be at risk of sexual exploitation and strengthening the child protection arrangements we have in place within the council and together with partner organisations.

"And we are also looking at how care plans for looked after children should adapt to better meet a child’s changing needs or circumstances. The report does acknowledge that looked after children at key stage 4 make successful transitions to further education or training.

"We are also reviewing social work practice across the service and reviewing the training needs of support staff, social workers and managers to ensure they are fully equipped with the right skills to help children to the best of their ability.

"As well as adoption performance being rated good, Ofsted recognises that the work of the turnaround board, set up in 2014, has driven a number of positive and much-needed changes in children’s services. However we accept these have not been quick enough for some families."

Councillor  Hunt added: “I wholeheartedly take on board the recommendations made by the inspectors who recognise that work is already underway on many areas for development. 

“I am very clear that our aspiration is to see services for children and young people move to a good rating at the earliest opportunity.

“To bring about the necessary improvements, the council must act swiftly and decisively but I have every confidence that we have the right people in place to drive the changes forward.”

Inspectors also highlighted a number of strengths, including:

● Social workers know children well. Children’s views are heard and those who are in need receive appropriate support

● Adoption performance is rated as good. Children who cannot live with their birth families are routinely considered for adoption and are found caring homes quickly

● Children whose needs are clear are referred to the access and response team and social workers and managers swiftly refer them to the right service

● Staff feel well supported and cared for by visible and approachable managers. Practitioners are proud to work for the council and consistently say that services are improving.

The council is now drawing up an improvement plan to implement the recommendations in the report.

Labour's Councillor Gareth Manson has criticised the immediate response to the report from senior officers and councillors.

"This defensive attitude and culture really needs to change if there is to be any meaningful and sustainable turn around in the Council’s performance,” he said.