Government takes control of child protection services at Croydon

BASW calls for the government to heed their repeated warnings about the effects of austerity on children’s services

Published on 5th September 2017

Croydon child protection services have been rated as inadequate and the government has taken control following a damning Ofsted inspection report.

Ofsted rated child protection services and leadership as ‘inadequate’. Adoption and services for care leavers were rated as requiring improvement.

“There are widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children and their families in Croydon that leave some children at risk of significant harm,” said the report. “Inspectors identified a legacy of poor practice characterised by drift and delay in the provision of key services.”

“Weak managerial oversight at all levels has not ensured that basic social work practice is of a good enough standard. Children do not receive robust and timely responses to ensure that risk is reduced and their needs are met,” the report adds.

Since the local authority was inspected in 2012, there has been “significant deterioration” in the quality of service provision, Ofsted said.

It highlighted:

  • Poor managerial oversight of cases which fails to ensure that basic social work practice is of a good enough standard.
  • Not all children receive help in a robust and timely manner.
  • The workloads of social workers in some teams are high and this presents a serious barrier to providing effective services for children.
  • The turnover of staff in many teams further inhibits the building of trusting relationships between social workers and children.

The inspectorate also noted that when children are missing or are at risk of sexual exploitation, poor recognition and response to these concerns is not reducing risk to them effectively. While strategic partnership understanding has improved, the response to children who are at risk from sexual exploitation is underdeveloped.

Too many children wait too long for a decision to be made as to whether they need to be looked after, or they return home without sufficient support.

Most children looked after live in stable foster placements where they are cared for well. There is good consideration of most children’s diverse needs in placement matches. In the majority of cases, social workers see children regularly.

Effectively supporting such a high number of unaccompanied asylum seekers is a “formidable challenge” that has been a priority. However, this prioritisation is not having the same impact on the rest of the frontline services.

There is evidence of some recent improvements, including a strengthening of work within the MASH which has led to more effective management oversight of practice, the report adds.

Ofsted makes a number of recommendations including:

-          Ensure that managers have sufficient oversight of practice, and provide social workers with effective supervision.

-          Establish a stable workforce through purposeful recruitment and retention activity.

-          Ensure that there is appropriate and timely action with regard to understanding and reducing risk to all children, especially those at risk of sexual exploitation and those who go missing from home or care.

-          Ensure that social workers have the necessary skills and knowledge to help children at risk of sexual exploitation.

-          Strengthen the provision of early help support for children and families.

The council accepts the findings and is working with Ofsted to make the necessary changes needed to deliver better services for children and young people in the borough.

The council is addressing all the issues raised as a priority. It has already invested further funding to help support and modernise working practices for all its children’s social workers and frontline staff.

A recruitment drive is launching to bring in more social workers, an extra social work team has been created to reduce workloads, and a new social care director appointed.

Cllr Alisa Flemming, cabinet member for children, young people and learning, said: “The care and safety of vulnerable children and young people is an absolute priority for this council and I will do whatever it takes to make sure that we are providing them with the high-quality services that they deserve.

“I’m disappointed that changes made over the past year have not delivered the quality of service we want for our children. We are determined to put this right as soon as possible by increasing the pace of change.

“We have some excellent social workers who do an incredibly difficult job against a backdrop of challenging circumstances here in Croydon, as well as a national shortfall in funding. I want to make sure that they are supported to do the very best they can for the children that need our help and protection.

“We are committed to working with staff, partners and residents to deliver the very best services for children. I will do everything I can to ensure the right support is available to accelerate the pace of improvement and make sure that our children and young people are at the centre of everything we do.”

Following the announcement, BASW is calling for strong leadership in the improvement process, and for the government to heed our repeated warnings about the effects of austerity.

Maris Stratulis, BASW England Manager said that while no one in the social work profession would condone poor social work practice or vulnerable children being placed at risk, the report identified many social workers were over-burdened with unsustainable caseloads.

“Good quality service to children and young people requires child focused ethical practice, strong leadership and management and, crucially, investment in resources,” says Stratulis.

“It’s become an all too familiar theme, where high caseloads and staff turnover, coupled with issues over recruitment and retention of key staff, are building barriers to providing effective services for children,” she concluded.

Ofsted’s report can be found here.

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