Improvement at 'inadequate' council too slow, inspectors warn

Neil Puffett
Thursday, November 30, 2017

Efforts to improve the quality of child protection work at a council rated "inadequate" by Ofsted are progressing too slowly with social work still of a "poor" standard, inspectors have warned.

Children's services at Surrey County Council were rated "inadequate" in June 2015, after inspectors flagged up serious concerns about how it deals with child sexual exploitation.

Inspectors, conducting the ninth quarterly monitoring visit since then, said the local authority has made some progress to implement the necessary improvements, but the pace of practice improvements for children in need of help and protection is "too slow".

"The local authority is taking too long to address critical weaknesses," a letter outlining the findings of the visit says.

"Where changes have occurred, they are very recent and remain fragile. Too much social work practice remains of a poor standard."

Inspectors said that weaknesses in managerial oversight at all levels, including by child protection chairs, mean that deficits in practice go unchallenged.

"Consequently, children's needs for help and protection are not consistently met," the letter states.

"Senior managers know what they need to do to improve the quality of services for children and are working to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to achieve this.

"However, substantial work remains necessary to ensure that social work practice is consistent and of the required standard."

Meanwhile inconsistent application of thresholds for children who need help and protection, and a lack of recognition of risk, were found to be features in too many children's cases.

"These critical weaknesses mean that children do not receive the right service at the right time or, in situations that are more serious, children are not safeguarded effectively," the letter states.

"Overall, children and family assessments lack a clear analysis of risk and planning for children is not outcome-focused."

However, despite the concerns, inspectors did say the council has improved its early help provision to children, with services increasingly reaching more children.

A spokesman for Surrey County Council said: "We know our care and support for children in Surrey isn't yet good enough and we fully accept these findings which mirror our own concerns.

"We're all determined to make and embed improvements to ensure our services for children in Surrey are as good as they can possibly be."  

Meanwhile, a separate monitoring visit of children's services Liverpool, the fourth since a joint targeted area inspection of the multi-agency response to abuse and neglect in June 2016 found evidence of serious and widespread deficits across the partnership, found that, while many of the failings that were identified have been rectified, social work practice is "still not good enough".

And a monitoring visit to Torbay, the fourth since the local authority was judged inadequate in January 2016, found the council to be making "variable progress" in improving services for children and young people.

"Some areas for development identified on previous monitoring visits have yet to be addressed sufficiently and, overall, the pace of change remains too slow," a letter outlining the findings states.

"Senior leaders have recognised the need to accelerate positive change and, with increasing engagement and commitment from elected members, the local authority has made further financial investment in children's services.

"However, this investment is too recent to demonstrate improved services and outcomes for children and young people."