The worst possible rating has been handed out to Wandsworth Council’s children’s services after Ofsted inspectors published its damning report this week.
The findings, released on Tuesday, February 16, slammed the council’s services for children who need help and protection, leadership management and governance as well as the experiences and progress of those who leave care.
- the service has seriously declined since 2012
- there was a lack of effective scrutiny by leaders and councillors
- some children, including those at risk of sexual exploitation, have been left at risk of harm
- 10 children with 'high needs' leaving care have spent "unacceptably long periods" in unsuitable accomodation
- 15% of closed cases had to be re-opened and further action taken
- children have been left in situations where they were being neglected
- the council had only recently self-assessed its services as 'good' in June 2015 which Ofsted said was "concerning"
Only marginally better was adoption performance yet even that could only muster a “requires improvement”.
To read the report in full click here
Ahead of its publication eight members of staff have left Wandsworth Council since it was subject to the unannounced inspection in December.
Shortly afterwards, vague details of what was to come were known, and Councillor Kathy Tracey, cabinet member for children and education, apologised for the imminent report.
The report highlighted failures to assess children quickly after they are referred as well as problems with putting children in bed-and-breakfasts instead of care homes or with foster parents.
Cllr Tracey called the report “incredibly disappointing” and a “wake-up call”.
The report states: “Managers at all levels of the organisation do not have sufficient oversight of front-line practice.
“For children in need of help and protection, this has resulted in the inappropriate application of thresholds for intervention and service provision, delays in children and young people being seen by social workers and inadequate recognition and management of risk.
“This left some children at risk of harm.”
In some of the cases social workers dealt with, the report found great detail but a failure to address the issue.
Inspectors found missing information that, had it been available, would have alerted senior leaders and councillors to the problems sooner. Inspectors found some children were left in situations where they were neglected for too long, that plans were too vague and not updated regularly enough.
Cllr Tracey said: “Children think we are supportive, partners think we are doing a good job, but we are not getting to the nub of the issue of whether this child tonight needs protecting.”
Since then the council has bought a property in Tooting and is working with children to assess how it could be used instead of sending them to bed and breakfasts.
Those who leave care sometimes wait too long for permanent home and have poor employment opportunities, the report found while, partnership arrangements to protect children facing sexual exploitation are well-established but not underpinned by “robust practice”.
The report states: “Inspectors identified inconsistencies in the identification of and response to children at risk of child sexual exploitation, with some children experiencing inaccurate assessments of risk and insufficient protection.”
In January, councillors agreed to spend £500,000 moving staff and hiring new employees on temporary contracts to implement the necessary changes in the children’s services.
At the time, opposition councillors criticised Wandsworth for failing to learn from other councils ahead of the Ofsted inspection, as new methods had been used for inspections in other boroughs.
Cllr Tracey said that many staff had been working in the council for an extended period meaning the culture of consulting other social workers or staff on difficult cases had been lost.
She said: "I do agree that they need to be more robust.”
At the end of October, 1,731 children needed specialist children’s services. About 22 per cent of children in Wandsworth are living in poverty.
The director of the department has met with social workers on an individual basis since the inspection.
A committee will be set up to meet on a monthly basis on a similar basis to the education standards committee, which Cllr Tracey said has been very effective in schools.