Bucks’ struggling children’s services ‘still a lot of work to do’

View from the roof of Fairfax House, with thanks to the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust. Looking across to the Bucks County Council (BCC) tower PNL-140314-172523001
View from the roof of Fairfax House, with thanks to the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust. Looking across to the Bucks County Council (BCC) tower PNL-140314-172523001

There is “still a lot of work to do” to bring the county’s children’s services up to standard, according to a council chief, as social workers continue to battle high caseloads.

Last week Bucks County Council’s (BCC) health and wellbeing board was updated on the progress of the county’s failing children’s services, following and Ofsted monitoring visit over summer.

The “weak impact” of social work, high case-loads and failures in the safeguarding and monitoring of children were among the concerns raised by inspectors.

However senior leaders were praised for having a “clear and well-informed” understanding of weaknesses, while plans to improve the services were seen as “credible and well devised.”

Speaking at the board meeting on Thursday, September 27, executive director of children’s services, Tolis Vouyioukas says the department is “nowhere near where [it] should be” following the last inspection in November 2017.

He said: “Although the impact of social work practice remains too weak there are some encouraging signs of early improvement.

“Of course that is a good thing, but we are nowhere near where we should be following the Ofsted inspection of November 2017.”

The board was also updated on a three month review of the service by government appointed commissioner, John Coughlan – who found a “significant amount of work” is required to establish “good social work and childcare practice.”

Mr Vouyioukas added: “It is very clear that we have a lot of work to do.

“[Mr Coughlan] has reported that changes are being driven at pace, but it is not a quick fix and it will take a bit of time to get in place the quality of social work practice to where it needs to be.”

An Ofsted action plan implemented following 2017’s damning inspection is 97 per cent complete.

The majority of the targets “have been progressed satisfactorily”, according to a council report, however there is still more to do to “improve compliance across the service.”

Vice-chairman of the board, Karen West, agreed more work needs to be done, but praised children’s service staff, saying: “I think it is clear there is a lot of work still to do, but actually I think it is a testimony to the work of your team that we have come as far as we have and retaining the children’s services in Bucks is great, so thank you very much.”

Children’s services has been underfire for a long time now, after a series of damning Ofsted reports and a failed consultation process, which is currently in its third incarnation.

Delays to changes in their early help program have caused a £1.5m headache.