A scathing Ofsted inspection report criticised the quality of social work practice and highlighted weaknesses in the way the council is attempting to tackle child sexual exploitation, concluding there has been a “failure of leadership” within the department.
In 2012 Ofsted rated the overall effectiveness of its safeguarding and looked after children’s services as “outstanding”.
But in March 2013 it was announced that the director of children’s services at the authority, Debbie Jones, would be leaving to join Ofsted as national director for social care, a post she resigned from only last month.
The latest report into children’s services in Lambeth concluded that the failure of leadership had “resulted in the deterioration of almost all safeguarding services and services for looked-after children and their families”.
It added that oversight and performance management was “poor” and changes in senior roles had led to a “lack of continuity and poor engagement” with local families.
While their report notes that over the last year the council had realised improvement was needed, inspectors criticised senior management and councillors for having “an over-optimistic evaluation” of the extent of the problems.
Cases of children in care were found to be blighted by poor planning, a lack of suitable placements, frequent changes of social workers and delays in health assessments.
Ofsted has told the council to act immediately to improve the way it tackles child sexual exploitation and overhaul its work on adoptions.
Lambeth’s chief executive Sean Harriss has pledged to turn around the performance of children’s services within 12 months.
He said: “We know there are big challenges ahead. But the confidence I have in our hard-working social care staff, and our partner organisations, means I’m sure we can get this job done.
“The report requires the council and its partner organisation to run an improvement plan that ensures that Lambeth’s children and young people are safe from harm, the risk of harm, and achieve the best possible outcomes they can.
“We are totally focused on getting that job done.”
Meanwhile, in a separate report, Devon County Council has been given an overall “requires improvement” rating.
While the inspection team found its work in adoption was “good”, its support for care leavers was rated as “inadequate”. Leadership and management as well as child protection and looked-after children’s services also “requires improvement”.
In contrast, Trafford Council has been praised by the inspectorate, receiving an overall “good” rating.
Its work with care leavers as well as its leadership and management were rated as “outstanding”.
Child protection, adoption and looked-after children’s services were all rated as “good”.