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Surrey failed to 'accept and act' on children's services failures

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Senior management and elected members at Surrey CC have been heavily criticised by Ofsted for failing to “accept and act” on serious failings in the council’s children’s services identified in 2015.

A damning report, published today following an inspection between February and March this year, said a lack of “urgency” in responding to problems highlighted by the regulator left too many of the most vulnerable children “exposed to continuing harm for long periods of time”.

Rating services ‘inadequate’, inspectors said repeated assessments and interventions experienced by children and families “often over a number of years” had not achieved ”sustainable changes”.

Surrey’s children’s services were also rated ‘inadequate’ at the last full inspection in 2015, which found widespread and serious failures “that potentially leave children at risk of harm” and inspectors heavily criticised the council’s leadership and managers for failing to act.

Today’s report said these problems persisted and were compounded by an “ineffective” improvement board, resulting in “some worrying examples of drift and delay in the face of escalating risk for the most vulnerable children”.

It added internal thresholds for intervention were “confused” and poorly understood by external agencies.

A review commissioned by Surrey, after serious shortcomings in frontline management oversight were identified, assessed more than 300 cases. It found a “small number” of these children required “urgent measures to safeguard them from harm”.

However, the report said there had been “more focused partnership working” in recent months and inspectors found evidence of a “positive change in culture” following the appointment of interim strategic director for children, schools and families Rose Durban in October last year.

Former Essex CC executive director for social care and education Dave Hill, who has been the Department for Education’s commissioner at NorfolK CC and Birmingham City Council, took over children’s services in Surrey last month.

Joanna Killian, with whom Mr Hill worked for when she was Essex’s chief executive for nine years until 2015, was appointed Surrey’s top officer in November last year, replacing David McNulty. 

The report said: “Very recently, leaders, managers and elected members have grasped the scale of improvement needed through an honest acceptance of the depth of practice shortcomings, and a concerted focus on improving children’s experiences and outcomes.

“This positive cultural change is starting to build a better understanding of risk, a learning-based practice model and more confident, informed social work with children.”

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