Ofsted has raised a red flag over children’s safeguarding at Cheshire West and Chester Council.
It warned the new unitary authority of serious weaknesses in its child protection investigations and said that an unannounced inspection by officers in September had found examples of poor management that had left some children at risk of “significant harm”.
The move is likely to mean Cheshire West and Chester’s children’s services rating is downgraded from its current three-star “performs well” to a one-star “performs poorly” grade in this year’s annual performance assessments, ranking it among the lowest in the country.
Inspector Gary Lamb said that while strengths and several areas of satisfactory practice were found in the two-day check, one red-flag area for “priority action” had been uncovered.
“In one area social work team where there has been a high turnover of practitioners and managers, there are serious weaknesses in child protection investigations and a poor level of management oversight,” he said.
“Inspectors identified some cases where there had been a failure to adequately manage known risk and provide effective protection, leaving some children at risk of significant harm.”
Mr Lamb warned the report’s findings “may have a significant impact on the annual children’s service assessment”.
“The identification of an area for priority action is likely to lead, at an appropriate time, to further inspection of contact, referral and assessment arrangements, a full safeguarding inspection, or a full safeguarding and looked after children inspection,” he said.
“If such an inspection takes place before the decision on the annual assessment, the findings and judgement of that inspection will supersede the findings of the unannounced inspection.”
Cheshire West & Chester director of children’s services John Stephens said the authority had recognised its safeguarding needed to improve from the day it came into existence as a new unitary in April last year.
We had already begun to address some of the concerns highlighted by inspectors, and we are confident that actions implemented by this authority are more than adequate to deliver the high standards we demand,” he said.
“The safety of children is one of the majr priorities of this authority and will always continue to be so.”