Reading Council’s children’s services removed from government intervention

Fiona Simpson
Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Reading Council’s children’s services department has been removed from government intervention after five years.

Reading Council has made 'significant improvements', Ofsted said. Picture: Reading Council
Reading Council has made 'significant improvements', Ofsted said. Picture: Reading Council

The council was placed under a notice of direction in 2016 after being rated “inadequate” by Ofsted with inspectors noting “serious, persistent and systemic failures” across children’s services.

“Important areas of children’s social care services in Reading have deteriorated since previous Ofsted inspections in 2012 and 2013, particularly services for children in need and services for children at risk of and experiencing significant harm,” inspectors found.

Following the damning findings, the Department for Education ordered a new company, Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC), to be set up to run the department.

A further inspection in 2019 uplifted Reading’s rating to “requires improvement to be good” with inspectors stating: “There has been evidence of improvement in most areas of practice since the last inspection.”

A recent report by children’s services commissioner Nick Whitfield, which further acknowledged improvements, recommended the removal of government intervention.

In a letter to council leader Jason Brock received earlier this week, children’s minister Vicky Ford confirmed she was lifting the direction with immediate effect.

It acknowledges “significant improvement” since Ofsted’s inspection in 2016 and states: “Elected members, senior leaders, partners and staff at all levels in Reading have demonstrated a commitment to achieving this. In doing so, Reading has ensured that vulnerable children and families now have access to an improved quality of service.

“This is an important and well-deserved step but there is still more work to do. I will be asking my officials to stay close to your continuing improvement journey, and, to that end, Reading will now enter a period of ‘support and supervision’, in line with all authorities who exit formal intervention.”

Liz Terry, lead councillor for children’s services, said: “This is hugely welcome news for all staff working with children and families, whether at the council or Brighter Futures for Children, who have worked so tirelessly over the last five years to drive forward improvements to children’s services in Reading. What is even more impressive is that improvements have continued during the pandemic, which continues to throw up huge challenges for children’s services and local government, which are likely to continue for some years to come.

“Children’s social care teams everywhere have a huge responsibility in minimising the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable children and young people. I am delighted that their hard work in Reading has been acknowledged in this way.

“Along with our colleagues at Brighter Futures for Children, our statutory partners in health, police and in our schools, and the voluntary/community sector, we all have a responsibility to help every single child in Reading achieve their full potential, no matter how challenging their personal circumstances may be. We know there is a long way to go and much more work to do, but the lifting of this notice is a major milestone in a continuing improvement journey.”

Meanwhile, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council has set out plans to improve children’s services after a monitoring visit by Ofsted identified “serious and widespread weaknesses”.

In it’s 15-point plan, the council vows to strengthen child-centered practice, move to a single case management system, increase workforce diversity and improve multi-agency working to create a clearer referral pathway from early help services.

The plan will undergo a “rigorous” review at the end of March, the council said.

It is also set to pass plans to invest £7.5m in children’s services improvements alongside a £1m children’s Covid recovery fund at a meeting of the cabinet tomorrow (10 February.)

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