Social care crisis: Damning Ofsted report says 20 local authorities cannot keep children safe

Watchdog says protection services are too often 'manifestly and palpably weak'

Social Affairs Correspondent

One in seven councils in England is failing vulnerable children with “inadequate” child protection services, according to a damning report.

There are 20 local authorities where Ofsted says standards are “unacceptably poor” and the most basic safeguards against abuse or neglect are not in place.

In its first annual report into social care, the watchdog said that child protection services are too often “manifestly and palpably weak”. Just four in 10 local authorities were rated as “good” or “outstanding” and more than half were deemed to be “less than good”. The study was based on more than 4,500 inspections of children’s care services in England’s 152 local authorities.

The picture was better for adoption and fostering services, which the regulator found had “generally improved over recent years”. More than three quarters of local authorities are now rated as “good” or “outstanding” for their adoption and fostering services.

A climate of increasing workloads and sharply decreasing budgets is making it harder than ever for councils to improve the situation, the regulator said. In the wake of high-profile cases such as Baby P, which heighten awareness of child vulnerability, the number of children referred to social services has soared, going from 538,000 in 2008 to 605,100 in 2012.

The growth in the number of looked after children alone represents an estimated additional £173 million pounds a year in added costs to the system. Yet local authority budgets have been slashed by more than a quarter in the five years from 2010.

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said poor leadership and too many changes at the top were contributing to the problem: “Incompetent and ineffective leadership must be addressed quickly. But where those in leadership positions have capacity and potential, this must be recognised and nurtured.

“Too much leadership volatility in social care is counter-productive – that goes without saying. One in three local authorities has had a change in their Director of Children’s Services last year alone. The combination of unstable communities and political and managerial instability in our social care services is a dangerous mix.”

In the initial full cycle of inspections, 17 councils were found to be inadequate. After the weakest were inspected again, with a focus on child protection, this number increased to 20. Sir Michael said the high numbers of underperforming councils showed that safeguarding boards - made up of relevant agencies such as the police, probation and social workers - were failing to do their job.

He said: “Too often, inspectors arrive unannounced in councils only to see child protection that is manifestly and palpably weak. Typically, these are the councils where case files of individual children demonstrate inadequate intervention; where referral thresholds are loosely defined, and where safeguarding boards aren’t worth the name.”

The report suggested that the watchdog would be pushing the Government to introduce tougher standards for councils. It said: “We are not satisfied that the standards [set by Government] are ambitious enough for children.”

Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the language in Ofsted’s report was “unhelpful” and that its inspection methods were not good enough to measure the performance of councils properly. He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “We have one of the safest countries in the world to grow up in, relatively low levels of child death. We have a very responsive system.”

Inadequate the 20 councils

* Barnsley

* Bexley

* Birmingham

* Blackpool

* Calderdale

* Cambridgeshire

* Cheshire East

* Cumbria

* Devon

* Doncaster

* Herefordshire

* Isle of Wight

* Kingston/Thames

* Medway

* Norfolk

* Northamptonshire

* Rochdale

* Sandwell

* Slough

* Somerset

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

    £12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders