The chief executive of Worcestershire CC has apologised after Ofsted found the council had failed to protect vulnerable children in care and left them at risk of “significant harm”.
Clare Marchant said the council accepted the findings of an inspection in October and November, which rated the services ‘inadequate’ in four of the five areas assessed and criticised elected members and leaders.
Chief apologises for child protection failings
Ofsted said Ms Marchant had established a safeguarding board following a peer review by the Local Government Association last year, but inspectors found this had not provided “sufficient focus” to tackle poor practice.
Inspectors also said senior leaders were unaware of “critical issues” identified during the inspection and inadequate staffing levels “at all levels” had contributed to “fundamental weakness in practice”.
A “critical area of concern” was that thresholds for intervention were found to have been applied inconsistently “at every point of the child’s journey” and management oversight “at every level” was said to lack the rigour required to drive practice improvement.
A decreasing but high level of social workers’ caseloads was said to be a significant factor to the poor quality of service children receive.
Significant weaknesses were also identified in assessments, planning and support for unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
While the adoption service was praised for making a positive difference to children’s lives, the council was criticised for not routinely considering fostering.
The report added: “Too many children have been left in situations of escalating risk without becoming looked after.
“Many child protection strategy meetings do not involve all relevant agencies, to allow a thorough discussion of the risks to children.
“As a result, children who require protection from harm and who need urgent improvement in their lives are left in situations of actual and escalating risk of significant harm.”
However, inspectors said a recently established senior leadership team - including Marc Bayliss (Con), cabinet member with responsibility for children and families, and director of children services Catherine Driscoll - was said to be starting to provide “much needed focus and drive”.
Inspectors also identified “strong political support for change”, with a “determined commitment” to provide the additional resources required which had accelerated the pace of change.
The council has confirmed it will invest an extra £3.5m in safeguarding children from April.
In a statement Ms Marchant said: “I want to say sorry to children and families where the level of service that we have provided has not been good enough.
“We accept the findings and I can assure you that we are working hard to improve outcomes for our children.
“We have made our plan more robust and we have accelerated the pace of delivery.”
She added that a new referral model for all agencies had been established in July last year which had significantly reduced the time it takes to complete care proceedings.
Ms Marchant also said progress had been made in recruiting more permanent team leaders.
Cllr Bayliss, who has been in the role for six months, said he was beginning to see improvements. He added: “The inspectors have told me that they have seen that the pace of change has accelerated and I will make sure that progress continues.”