CHILDRENS’ social services in Buckinghamshire have been branded "inadequate" by Ofsted, in a damning report criticising “widespread and serious” failings in the way the county council safeguards vulnerable youngsters.
The report, published today, lists a catalogue of failings across different areas of the children’s services provided by Buckinghamshire County Council.
The authority has been ranked as “inadequate” overall, and also in three key categories - dealing with children who need help and protection; children being looked after and “achieving permanence”; and in leadership, management and governance.
Adoption performance and the experience and progress of care leavers are both areas which require improvement, the report says.
BCC has pledged that it will be working to turn the situation around as quickly as possible, with a new action plan in response to today’s report already being finalised.
The key criticisms raised in the report are as follows:
• Childrens' social care is not in the top two priorities for Buckinghamshire County Council, making it harder to keep standards up and maintain long-term change.
• The report said: “Failures by Buckinghamshire’s safeguarding services are widespread and serious. The result is that children are not being effectively protected. Children and young people do always not receive help when they need it.”
• Despite concerns from elected members about the quality of services delivered by some social work teams, there has been too little analysis of the problems, and improvements have not been made.
• Too many children are at risk of harm, the report goes on to say, with serious failures in assessing and responding to children and young people in need of help and protection.
It said: “At the time of this inspection, a high number of children in need of statutory intervention and protection were without an allocated social worker. As a result, too many of them are at risk of harm. The level of unallocated work is a long-standing problem.”
• Ofsted also raised concerns about the way children in need of help and protection may not be allocated to a social worker and that decisions to close cases without a social worker first seeing and speaking to children “exacerbate risks”.
• Case loads are too high, meaning social workers cannot do their job effectively.
• The quality of case records were another concern. The repost said: “They do not accurately reflect the child’s experiences and important documents are left blank.”
• Care for some looked after children is not good enough, with managers unaware as to whether statutory visits are completed because information is missing. The report adds that more than half of looked after children a placed outside the county, affecting the speed of services in meeting their needs.
• The report said not all young people leaving care have an up-to-date plan, with the proportion of care leavers not in education, employment or training “significantly higher” than that for young people in Bucks overall.
• The report said: “supervision of social workers is of poor quality and managers’ oversight of practice in many teams is inconsistent.”
• It added that too many managers at all levels were temporary.
• Managers have not taken effective action to address concerns over social work practice when they have been identified, leading the report to state that the system for quality assurance and performance management is “ineffective”.
Despite this list of failures, however, the report also raised some strengths, and said that “very recent caseload reductions in some teams are making a positive difference, with strong feedback from parents and children."
It also found that: “Identification, tracking and risk assessment processes for young people who go missing or are at risk of sexual exploitation are effective.”
Other areas of strength included the out of hours Emergency Duty Team, BCC’s working relationship with the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, the authority’s development of what would be the country’s third Family Drug and Alcohol Court and the way services have been commissioned to support vulnerable children and their families.
The report also praised the way youth services approached their work, the fact that 11 per cent of care leavers go on to higher education, training procedures for newly qualified social workers and the early stage at which adoption is considered for the benefit of the child.
Responding to the report, Angela Macpherson, Cabinet Member for Children's Services, said: "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."
To read the full report, click here.