Inspections expose 'unacceptable' safeguarding failures, Gove warns

By Lauren Higgs

| 16 November 2012

Too many local authorities are failing to keep children safe, with almost half of councils subject to Ofsted's new-style child protection checks rated "inadequate", the Education Secretary Michael Gove has warned.

Gove argued that new inspections are sharpening the focus on professional practice. Image: Phil Adams

Addressing an Institute of Public Policy Research conference, to coincide with the publication of an independent review into the Edlington torture case, Gove said the state is “currently failing in its duty to keep our children safe”.

“Too many local authorities are failing to meet acceptable standards for child safeguarding,” he said. “When we do intervene it is often too late”.

Gove argued that the old Ofsted regime was unfit for purpose and that new inspections introduced in June were sharpening the focus on professional practice, or “the nitty-gritty of child protection”.

Under the old checks, three per cent of local authorities were considered outstanding in their attempts to keep children safe, while 36 per cent were rated good, 45 per cent adequate and 16 per cent inadequate.

Since the new system was introduced, 12 inspection reports have been published – six of these councils were rated adequate, five inadequate and just one, Redbridge, was rated good.

“It is necessary to highlight how poorly some parts of local government are discharging their responsibilities,” Gove said.

“What is also clear is that local authorities can get it right, and I congratulate Redbridge, whose inspection report is published today, for their good child protection services and wish them well on their journey to outstanding.”

Gove meanwhile raised concerns about the independence of serious case reviews, echoing comments made in Lord Carlile’s report into the Edlington case.

“I am glad that some local authorities have responded to our call for greater transparency by publishing serious case reviews - such as Leicester, North Somerset and Nottinghamshire,” he said.

“But I am still frankly frustrated that only 28 serious case reviews have been published since June 2010 of the 147 initiated and of which 80 have completed. I know in some cases we wait on the termination of legal proceedings before serious case reviews can be published but this still leaves a large proportion, well over half, unpublished.”

Gove argued that there is currently “too much foot-dragging, prevarication and obfuscation” around serious case reviews.

“We need rapid progress towards greater transparency. If that doesn’t happen soon, we may need to legislate – for example to ensure that lessons learned investigations are carried out by investigators with a clear remit to publish the truth in full as rapidly as possible,” he said.

“The body which commissions a serious case review in relevant cases is the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB). But the members of the LSCB are generally representatives of those very organisations - the local authority, the local police force, the NHS and others - who have made mistakes in child protection and whose errors need exposing.

“And the chair of the LSCB - the principal watchdog - will be appointed by the director of children’s services - the figure in the local authority with direct responsibility for child protection. There is a clear potential conflict of interest. Which is why - at the very least - we need to change the way we appoint chairs of LSCBs.”

Gove added that more children should be taken into care more quickly, and that “too many children are allowed to stay too long with parents whose behaviour is unacceptable”.

“I want social workers to be more assertive with dysfunctional parents, courts to be less indulgent of poor parents, and the care system to expand to deal with the consequences,” he said.

“In all too many cases when we decide to leave children in need with their biological parents we are leaving them to endure a life of soiled nappies and scummy baths, chaos and hunger, hopelessness and despair. These children need to be rescued, just as much as the victims of any other natural disaster.”

The results of Ofsted’s new child protection inspections to date:

  • Blackpool: inadequate
  • Rotherham: adequate
  • Bromley: adequate
  • Birmingham: inadequate
  • Herefordshire: inadequate
  • Cambridgeshire: inadequate
  • Surrey: adequate
  • Cheshire West and Chester: adequate
  • North Yorkshire: adequate
  • Doncaster: inadequate
  • Salford: adequate
  • Redbridge: good
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