Council leaders have expressed determination to improve services for children in care following publication of a critical OfSTED report.
The report, published today (13 May), follows an inspection in March of services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers. It concludes that despite significant improvements in many areas, overall services in Cumbria remain inadequate.
The report says, ‘there are widespread or serious failures in the delivery of services for looked after children which result in their welfare not being safeguarded and promoted.
Leaders and managers have not been able to demonstrate sufficient understanding of failures in services for looked after children, and have been ineffective in prioritising, challenging and making improvements in relation to looked after children services. It is Ofsted’s expectation that, as a minimum, all children and young people receive good help, care and protection.’
Two previous inspections in April 2012 and May 2013 also concluded services were inadequate. OfSTED have four ratings: inadequate, requires improvement, good and outstanding.
In this latest report, of the five sub-areas of work inspected, three were judged to be requiring improvement and two were judged to be inadequate:
- Children who need help and protection – Requires Improvement
- Children looked after and achieving permanence – Inadequate
- Adoption performance – Requires Improvement
- Experiences are progress of care leavers – Requires Improvement
- Leadership, management and governance – Inadequate
The 2013 inspection report was highly critical and identified widespread failures in children’s services. Most significantly inspectors said the council could not be confident that children we were working with, particularly those on child protection plans, were safe. In this latest report inspectors have recognised that significant progress has been made to improve safeguarding and child protection services and that these services, while not yet good, are no longer inadequate and children are not being left at risk.
Inspectors also highlighted a number of strengths, including:
- Political leadership which has prioritised and invested in children’s services at a time of financial austerity. This has resulted in the creation of additional social worker posts, expansion of the Edge of Care service model, creation of the early help team, and development of the social work academy;
- The impact of the Chief Executive and new Corporate Director for Children’s Services in driving improvement and developing a more open and positive culture;
- The openness to scrutiny and challenge from outside organisations;
- The quality of face to face work with children and ensuring that the child’s views and wishes are heard and acted upon;
- The improvement in our “Early Help” services which work with children and families to prevent problems developing that could require intervention;
- The work of our ‘Virtual School’ which supports children in care to achieve the best possible educational outcomes;
- The increasing effectiveness of Cumbria’s Local Safeguarding Children Board which has moved from “inadequate” to “requires improvement”;
- The quality of work with children and families to prevent them being taken into care which was recently judged “outstanding”; and
- The effectiveness of the adoption service in finding families for children, especially older children and those with complex needs
However, inspectors concluded that while focusing on improving child protection services the council did not give sufficient priority to services for children in care, whether living with foster parents or in residential homes. While there was no question about their safety, inspectors found that in some parts of the county our work with these children was not helping them like it should. As a result services for looked after children were judged inadequate.
Inspectors also concluded that weaknesses in this area of children’s services should have been spotted, and acted upon, sooner. Because of this, and despite recognising the significant impact of the Children’s Services’ leadership in driving improvement, leadership, management and governance was rated as inadequate.
Cllr Anne Burns, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “This is not acceptable and we are absolutely clear that only ‘good’ is good enough for children in Cumbria. We are determined to ensure that the weaknesses identified in this report are dealt with quickly, and I think it’s important to apologise to those children in our care who have not received the quality of service that they deserve.
“I acknowledge that we were not quick enough to respond to the weaknesses in our looked after children’s services, but over the last six months staff have been working incredibly hard to turn things around. An independent review of our work with all our children in care has been carried out, and as those individual reviews have taken place we have moved quickly to address any issues identified and make sure children are getting the support they need.
“I am confident, given our experiences in turning around safeguarding and child protection services, that we can rapidly make the improvements that are needed.
John Macilwraith, Corporate Director for Children’s Services, said: “I share Cllr Burn’s determination to improve our services. I have spent my whole career working in Children’s Services across the country and I know how important it is that children and young people get the right help and support.
“The inspectors’ report notes that over recent months we have already been making progress in tackling the issues they identified, and that we are well placed to make the necessary improvements. In recognition of the urgency to improve we have appointed a new Senior Manager with a clear brief to quickly improve the quality of services for looked after children and over the coming months we will be implementing a staffing restructure which will significantly strengthen management capacity in the local areas.
“I can also confirm that following consideration of the report, which we have had in draft form since late April, Assistant Director for Children and Families Lyn Burns has offered her resignation and I have accepted. Lyn feels it is the right time to hand on responsibility for this challenging area of work. I would like to put on record my thanks to Lyn. She has been an important member of our management team and has made a very valuable contribution to children’s services during her time in Cumbria.
“While the inspectors saw examples of good practice, we are still some distance from being consistently good across the whole county, and in all areas of our work. But I am encouraged that the report has recognised the progress we have made; we are far stronger than we were in 2013 and in a far better position to make quick progress. I’d like to thank our staff, who I know are hugely committed children and young people, for the work that they are doing.”
DCC Michelle Skeer for Cumbria Constabulary said: “The safety and wellbeing of children in Cumbria is of the utmost important to the Constabulary, and we will continue to work closely with partner agencies to keep children safe. We are determined to work with agencies to improve services, and will work together where possible to ensure any lessons are learned from the report’s findings.”
The Chair of Cumbria’s Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) has welcomed the report, which recognises significant improvements in the board’s work. The report follows an inspection of the LSCB which took place during March.
Inspectors concluded that good progress had been made and that the board should now be rated as ‘requiring improvement’.
The LSCB brings together all organisations that work with children and young people in Cumbria to ensure services are co-ordinated and that there is scrutiny and challenge to the work of the member organisations.
In their report inspectors noted:
- The impact of the new independent Chair, appointed by Cumbria County Council in April last year.
- The greatly strengthened governance arrangements which are ensuring the LSCB is functioning properly;
- The improved understanding across partners of their roles and responsibilities;
- The strong relationship with other multi-agency boards which oversee related service areas, such as the Health and Well-Being Board;
- The increasing effectiveness of its challenge to the performance of member organisations; and
- The key role the LSCB has played in the development of the county’s Safeguarding Hub, the first point of contact for anyone with concerns about a child.
As reflects the ‘requires improvement’ judgement, inspectors also identified areas where further work was needed, noting particularly the need to strengthen the way partners respond to children at risk of sexual exploitation and those living in households where domestic abuse occurs.
Gill Rigg, independent Chair of the Cumbria LSCB , said: “When I was appointed last April I thought it would take at least 18 months to reach this point. That we have managed to come this far in less than a year is testament to the commitment partner organisations, particularly the county council, have shown to strengthening the LSCB and also the work done by my predecessor Richard Simpson from Barnardo’s.
“I always felt that my first task was to ensure that LSCB functioned properly as an organisation. That meant being clear about roles and responsibilities of the organisations involved, about how they work together and there being commitment to a shared vision. I’d like to recognise all partners’ contribution to helping us achieve this.
“The inspectors are right that there is much work still to do. Unsurprisingly given recent experiences in other parts of the country, they have said we need to do more to make sure we can deal with the risk of child sexual exploitation. This is absolutely a priority for the board and we want to build on the important work we have already done. Similarly, improvements to the response to domestic abuse and child and adolescent mental health are planned.
“Today’s report is an important milestone and shows clearly that we have the capacity to improve further. I know that partners share my determination that we do so. We all know that only good is good enough for children in Cumbria.”
John Macilwraith, Cumbria County Council’s Corporate Director for Children’s Services, said: “This is a positive report and I’m pleased inspectors have recognised the progress that’s been made. The county council is absolutely committed to supporting Gill to ensure the LSCB does its job well. Keeping children safe and well is a shared responsibility across a wide range of organisations, it’s vital that they work effectively together because no one organisation can do it on their own.”
Richard Simpson, Assistant Director of Children’s Services for Barnardo’s said: “We note the Ofsted Report regarding the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board and welcome the recognition of the significant improvement that has been referenced in this judgement. We will continue to play our individual and collective part in the on-going improvement journey.”
Dr Hugh Reeve, NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group’s Interim Chief Clinical Officer, said: “We welcome the news that there has been significant improvement within the LSCB. We will continue to work alongside the county council to make sure that all services are rated as ‘Good’ in future inspections and the Children and Young people of Cumbria get the services they rightly deserve.”