Progress in helping vulnerable children is too slow: report

Safeguarding in Worcestershire: under scrutiny

Safeguarding in Worcestershire: under scrutiny

First published in News Malvern Gazette: Tom Edwards Exclusive by , Political Reporter

NOT enough progress has been made in improving help for vulnerable children across Worcestershire, according to an independent report.

A watchdog-style body has produced a dossier saying Worcestershire County Council has to do more to keep children safe.

It reveals:

- "Recruitment and retention problems" with social workers has blighted the safeguarding children's service

- A "significant uplift" in performance at the start of 2012/13 "levelled off", mainly due to massive demand for help from the public

- Overall progress has been "slow" and and "inconsistent" timescales in responding to pleas for help has undermined the service

- The county council has found it "problematic" to recruit new social workers, with not enough experienced staff joining

- Working practices are "variable" and better sharing of information is needed with other bodies

Back in 2010 the council was given an improvement notice by Ofsted for safeguarding children and classed as inadequate.

In 2012 that warning was lifted, with the service given a satisfactory rating.

The 33-page report, from Worcestershire's Safeguarding Children Board for 2012/13, shines a light on the progress since then.

It says: "It became clear more social workers were required and an extra 30 posts were created.

"It has, however, proved problematic to recruit appropriate people so the issue of high caseloads remains.

"The council has a recruitment and retention strategy in place and only when this is successful will the ongoing concerns of the board be properly addressed."

It also says despite ongoing reviews of cases there are "patterns of concern" that "continuously emerge", citing poor record keeping, management and supervision.

A summary found that although children are "generally safe" in Worcestershire, "quality, consistency and collective responsibility" needs to improve.

The board also said it lacks feedback from the public and actual children, but is actively focusing on obtaining it when it does its next report.

The county council's Conservative leadership has just decided to pour an extra £3.5 million into children's services in response to the pressures.

It says the numbers of children in care, which currently stands at 652, is quite high and is focusing on an early intervention strategy to bring it down.

The investment is funded by next month's 1.9 per cent council tax rise, and includes the hiring of 30 new social workers.

Since the report came out the council says a ‘net gain’ of 15 children’s social workers have come in.

The independent board did commend the recruitment strategy and says it expects the 2013/14 report to detail improvements, not only in the council’s role for safeguarding but across other responsible bodies.

It also says it expects the early help focus to result in less children being taken into care.

Diana Fulbrook, the independent chair, said: "The success of 'early help' is crucial to what happens later on."

The report was discussed during a meeting of the Conservative cabinet.

Councillor Adrian Hardman, county council leader, said: "We still appreciate we've got a long way to go."

Councillor Liz Eyre, cabinet member for children and families, said they were intent on a "culture change" that will take time.

After the meeting Cllr Eyre released a statement to your Worcester News saying she was confident things are on the right path.

It said: “The WCSB annual report is a partnership report wider than children's social care.

“However in respect of this service we have made and continue to make significant progress on agreed actions.

“There is a well-developed looked after children strategy which is monitored and managed closely to ensure the right child has the right placement, at the right time, at the right cost.

“Our workforce strategy is addressing both recruitment and retention and a recent service redesign has been implemented.

“We are confident that all these actions will contribute to improvement, however we recognise that there remains more to do."

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