Hull City Council has been issued with an improvement notice over its failing children’s services and a government adviser appointed to drive up standards.
The services were rated inadequate by Ofsted in May this year, having previously been judged to require improvement in 2015. In its report the regulator said that while some important aspects of leadership have strengthened since the appointment of new director of children’s services Alison Murphy in 2017, the actions that leaders have taken have “not sufficiently addressed the weaknesses in frontline practice and management oversight” in particular for children in need.
The report said there were “widespread and serious failures” in the recognition of risk and in the quality of social work practice for children in need. It found that a lack of authoritative practice by social workers and managers means that risk and need are not identified quickly enough for too many children. Arrangements to safeguard children with specific vulnerabilities, such as disabled children, children living in private fostering arrangements, and 16-year-old homeless children are “ineffective,” it added.
The Department for Education (DfE) warned that if improvements were not made by 2020, there could be further intervention by the education secretary, with options including services being taken from the council and run by independent commissioners.
Ms Murphy, director of children’s, young people and family services, said the council would monitor progress against its improvement plan, and that it’s established improvement board will oversee implementation. ”We will also be taking views of staff, children and young people into consideration in the development of practice and standards,” she said. “The needs of the city’s children are paramount and we will work hard to ensure the services we provide to our children and their families are of the highest standard.”
The inspection took place between 14 and 25 January this year, at a time when the council was 18 months into a major transformation programme. In a statement that council said that it has since seen progress in many of the key areas identified for early action, including the timeliness of assessments and increasing the number of social worker posts by 24, meaning caseloads are significantly reduced from an average of 28 to an average of 17.
The council said that since the inspection, it has also injected a further £2m into children’s services, carried out audits and independent oversight of more than 150 cases in addition to its ongoing regular audit programme, implemented changes to improve the quality of private fostering placements, provided targeted training, and hosted visits from staff in high performing authorities to learn from their good practice.
Council leader Stephen Brady (Lab) said the authority has injected an additional £13m per year into children’s services over the last three years, but that he was “disappointed” by the inspection’s findings. “We are now committing a further £2m to increase the number of local placements for children in care, provide additional support for children with special educational needs and care leavers and to ensure we are able to accelerate the improvements we are making across all of our children’s services,” he said.