A “corporate failure” by Wirral MBC to recruit a permanent chief executive contributed to vulnerable children not being protected, Ofsted has said.
An inspection report published today said senior leaders were aware of the “poor application” of assessment thresholds by the council and partner agencies but failed to react effectively.
Case records were found to have been sometimes so inadequate inspectors were unable to ascertain how a decision had been reached or what resulted from the intervention, the report said.
The findings were described as a “significant deterioration” in the quality of children’s services after they were rated ‘good’ by Ofsted in 2011. The services are now rated ‘inadequate’.
The capacity of the director of children’s services to address failings was said to be “impaired” by the “corporate failure” to recruit and retain a permanent chief executive and permanent head of children’s services.
Plans to restructure services were said to have been delayed for a year “due to competing council priorities”.
The new service structure was completed following the appointment of Eric Robinson as permanent chief executive in February 2015, but the report said this had not then led to “anticipated” improvements.
In July, 705 children were being looked after by the council and 393 were the subject of a child protection plan.
A total of 2,712 children in the area had been identified as being formally in need of a specialist children’s service.
Since 2011 Ofsted had been notified of serious incidents and one of two serious case reviews had been completed.
The serious case review into the death of 16-year-old ’Child G’, who was murdered by her boyfriend, found Wirral’s children’s services had misjudged her level of need leading to her not receiving the required level of safeguarding.
Despite significant investment in training managers were found to have not exercised managerial oversight of case records, nor did they communicate good practice to frontline staff.
The report said the council did not know where many of its care leavers were living and what they were doing, with some of the most vulnerable not receiving a service that adequately recognised risk.
Inspectors found the council had failed to address the underlying causes of children being at risk of sexual exploitation due to “over-optimism” about their circumstances at home and the parental ability to protect their children from risk.
In five of the six relevant cases seen by inspectors, children had a “serious” history of neglect that was not adequately considered.
Frontline staff were also found to often not demonstrate an understanding of the implications for children of being exposed to adult mental health and substance and alcohol abuse.
Scrutiny of performance data by management and elected members was said to not always focus “on the right things” and the quality of the information was compromised by faulty recording on the council’s electronic system.
No children were judged to be at immediate risk of significant harm during the inspection, but some were found to experience “unacceptable” levels of risk that are “gradual and increase over time”. This was said to particularly impact on those living in neglectful and domestic abuse situations.
Meanwhile, the council’s adoption service was judged to require improvement as many children were said to wait too long to find a family.
Ofsted’s report made 19 recommendations to address the failures highlighted and Mr Robinson said in a statement that an improvement board had been established to implement the required improvements.
Mr Robinson said: “When I joined Wirral last year, it was clear that unprecedented levels of staff turnover in senior, key positions were having an impact on our social work teams.
”We have already taken steps to rectify the issue, and we are now going further, more quickly.
“We guarantee Wirral residents every issue Ofsted identified will be fixed as a matter of urgency.”