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Torbay rated 'inadequate' as joint children's director takes over

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Torbay Council has been handed a repeat inadequate rating for its children’s social care services as it struggles to deal with financial pressures caused by a sharp rise in young people being taken into care.

An Ofsted inspection which ended in early July found the pace of improvement since the last inspection in 2016 had been too slow, with ongoing fundamental weaknesses in management oversight, response to risk and workforce capacity.

Torbay lost control of its children’s social care services following a review by commissioner and Hampshire CC chief executive John Coughlan earlier this year, with Plymouth City Council taking over operations under joint director of children’s services Alison Botham the day after the inspection.

Inspectors found risks of long-term chronic neglect or domestic abuse for some children are not recognised or addressed quickly enough, while managers “at all levels” lack “understanding and urgency” to respond to practice weaknesses, with quality assurance arrangements are described as underdeveloped.

Ofsted did identify some good practice in early help and adoption services.

Financial pressures in children’s services last month forced Torbay into a moratorium with restrictions on non-urgent spending worth more than £1,000.

A section 114 notice was not issued, but there are concerns about rising costs and a predicted overspend.

Chief executive Steve Parrock said the main reason for budget pressures was “a substantial increase in the number of children looked after”, whose numbers had increased by 20% since November 2017 and 10% since the start of this financial year, reaching 357.

The Ofsted report said 43% of looked after children were living outside the council area in May 2017.

The number of children in Torbay identified as in need of specialist support had reduced from 1,196 in March 2017 to 1,003 in May this year.

The level of young people subject to a child protection plan also fell from 212 to 153 over the period.

Ms Botham said immediate action was being taken to address weaknesses in key areas but added austerity had led to a number of challenges, including a rise in children being taken into care.

She added: “Providing placements for these children is very costly and has a big impact on the council’s already restricted budget. However, councillors and senior officers continue to give political and financial support to children’s services, and this has been recognised by inspectors.

“I believe that the new arrangement provides a sound basis for a better pace of consistent and sustained improvement.”

Torbay’s elected mayor Gordon Oliver (Con) in June suggested the council’s financial difficulties meant it might have to revert to being a Devon CC district, or form a larger unitary with neighbouring councils. 

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