Utterly inadequate: Watchdog savages council over the way it deals with our most vulnerable children

A litany of failures at Bucks County Council is putting vulnerable children at risk, according to a damning Ofsted report.

By Hayley O’Keeffe
Friday, 8th August 2014, 9:19 am
View of Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) offices in Aylesbury
View of Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) offices in Aylesbury

The authority’s children’s social services department has been branded ‘inadequate’ by inspectors – the worst rating possible.

The department, which has a budget of £41million and is run by Sue Imbriano, who is paid £143,000 a year, is charged with protecting vulnerable children, often from troubled families.

There are nearly 2,500 children in Bucks who have been assessed to be in need of a service from the department.

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Ofsted found that failures in some parts of the service are serious, particularly in the assessment of children and young people who need protection.

The report states that at the time of the assessment, a high number of children who were in need of statutory intervention did not even have a social worker.

Ofsted inspectors were told by political leaders and chief officers at the council that childrens’ social care is not in the authority’s top two priorities.

The report said that this attitude limits the effectiveness of efforts to drive up standards.

Care for some vulnerable children was found to be ‘not good enough’, with managers not keeping check of important visits with the youngsters because of poor record keeping.

The report also found that social workers were poorly supervised and managers were often temporary.

Angela Macpherson, cabinet member for children’s services at Bucks County Council, said: “Today Ofsted publishes its report on the arrangements for children’s social care and protection in Buckinghamshire and concludes that services are ‘inadequate’.

“Whilst Ofsted found many strengths (paras 45 - 55) including the way that social workers had made a real difference to children’s lives and the effective processes we have for children who go missing or are at risk of sexual exploitation, our performance in other areas has been unsatisfactory (paras 1 - 11). This includes shortcomings in leadership and management, a lack of social work capacity to deal with the increasing volumes of work and weaknesses in procedures and record keeping.

“We recognise many of the conclusions and Ofsted’s report will re-energise the programme of significant changes we began in 2013 to the way we work with children and their families.

“We had brought in additional help and support, but clearly Ofsted’s report shows our pace of improvement has been insufficient and I accept their findings.

“In relation to paragraph 1 of the report, children’s social care is integral to two of the eight equal key priorities set out in our strategic plan. We will however be reviewing our approach in the light of the Ofsted comments.

“My task now is abundantly clear - we must get back to a ‘good’ rating or better as soon as we can. Frankly, anything less is going to be unacceptable to me and the families and children we work with and support. We are already finalising a new action plan in response to today’s report so it’s crystal clear to everyone how and when these improvements will be delivered.

“Let me personally reassure everyone that this council will turn this around as quickly as we can so that Buckinghamshire, together with its partners get back to providing the very best processes and practices to help, protect and support our children and young people. I will not rest until this has happened.”

More than 260 children in Bucks are subject to a ‘protection plan’, 444 are being looked after by the council (eg in care homes or with foster families), while there have been 30 adoptions in the last 12 months.

Seven key quotes from the Ofsted report

1) “Supervision of social workers is of poor quality and managers’ oversight of practice in many teams is inconsistent. At all levels, too many managers are temporary.”

2) “Political leaders and chief officers state that childrens’ social care is not in the top two priorities for the council. This limits the effectiveness of those with lead responsibility for childrens’ social care to drive up standards and sustain longer term change.”

3) “Failures of Buckinghamshire’s safeguarding services are widespreda and serious. The result is that children are not being effectively protected. Children and young people do not always receive help when they need it.”

4) “Care for some looked after children is not good enough. Managers do not know if all statutory visits are completed because performance information is missing.

“Over 50% of looked after children are placed outside Buckinghamshire and this affects the avilability and timelines of services to meet their needs.”

5) “Case loads are too high in some areas of the service and this means that social workers are unable to do their jobs effectively. Agencies do not agree about the threshold for intervention by children’s social care.”

6) “For some months, leaders in Buckinghamshire, including elected members, have had concerns about the quality of services delivered by some social work teams.

“However, there has been too little analysis of where problems lie and, as a result, remedial action and investment have not led to improvements.”

7) “Arrangements to prioritise unallocated work are unsafe. Some children who require continuing help and protection are not allocated to a social worker.

“Responses to them are piecemeal, with tasks alloacted to different social workers. Decision to close cases without social workers seeing and speaking to children exacerbate risks.”

Read the report by clicking here.