Leadership instability linked to children's services failings

Neil Puffett
Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Children's services departments are struggling to improve child protection standards due to instability caused by high turnover of senior staff and directors, a report by Ofsted has claimed.

Wilshaw has called for good children's services leaders to be "nurtured". Image: Ofsted
Wilshaw has called for good children's services leaders to be "nurtured". Image: Ofsted

Figures published today by the watchdog show that out of 17 local authorities judged to be inadequate on children’s services in the past year, nearly two thirds (11) had recently seen a new director of children’s services installed.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of Ofsted said that while incompetent and ineffective leadership must be addressed quickly, equally those in leadership positions with capacity and potential must be “recognised and nurtured”.

“Too much leadership volatility in social care is counter-productive – that goes without saying,” Wilshaw said.

“One in three local authorities has had a change in their director of children’s services last year alone.

“The combination of unstable communities and political and managerial instability in our social care services is a dangerous mix.”

Analysis by CYP Now has found that the annual turnover rate of directors of children’s services (DCSs) now exceeds one in three, compared with one in five in 2008/09.

Between 2008 and 2009, the turnover rate stood at 19.7 per cent, whereas it climbed to 34.2 per cent between 2012 and 2013.

Ofsted’s first annual social care report found that many areas are struggling to improve their performance in a “climate of turbulence, increased workloads and intense scrutiny of children’s social care”.

Following the first full three-year cycle of inspections, only four in 10 local authorities were judged to be “good” or better for safeguarding children.

And 20 local authorities were judged to be “inadequate” on child protection arrangements at the time of their most recent inspection.

Inspectors found that a persistent absence of stable leadership was a feature of most “inadequate” local authorities.

They found that in the weakest authorities, the “most basic acceptable practice” was not in place, support from health, police, and schools was “weak and poorly co-ordinated”, and in some areas managers did not appear to have a firm understanding of what constituted good practice.

The report found that in authorities that had succeeded in improving services, leaders and managers had a clear understanding of what was going on at the frontline and had coherent and urgent plans in place to address identified areas of need.

Ofsted’s national director for social care, Debbie Jones, said some services are increasingly expert at reducing risk, helping families to look after their children and enabling children at risk in their area to make good progress.

“It can be done, and therefore it must be done in all areas, equally well,” she said.

“Ofsted will be rigorous in holding local councils and social care providers to account but we will also support them to make the improvements that children deserve.”

Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), said all directors of children's services, whether their services have been judged to be outstanding or inadequate, are committed to improving services.

"To deliver sustainable, good services we need strong and stable leadership teams in local authorities as one of the key factors in high performing children's services departments," he said.

"Ofsted's approach to inspection, namely the single word judgment, is not conducive to this.

"A judgment of inadequate, and the subsequent instability this can cause, can be detrimental to the improvement journey of a local authority.

"A narrative judgment would allow local authorities to work with their local partners including health, police and education to form an action plan to ensure improvement in their local area."

David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board said there are tens of thousands more children on the radar of social services than seven years ago and the number of looked-after children under the care and supervision of local authorities is now higher than at any point in almost 30 years.

“Councils know they have a key role to play in looking after children but it is not a job which they can do alone," he said.

"It is everyone’s responsibility to keep children safe from harm.

"The aim must now be to create a culture of moral responsibility in which people know how to raise the alarm and feel confident that if they come forward with legitimate concerns those concerns will be dealt with in a swift, proportionate and effective way.”

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