More councils 'inadequate' on children's safety

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The Independent Online

The number of children's services across England deemed "inadequate" by Government inspectors at keeping youngsters safe has doubled, figures revealed today.

The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) published its annual performance assessments (APAs) for 147 local authorities today.

Ofsted judged eight councils as "inadequate" for keeping children safe - compared to four last year.

The children's watchdog also judged four councils "inadequate" overall this year - compared to none in 2007.

The APAs provide an overview of every council's performance in relation to children's services, including education, social care and health.

This year, the number of councils judged to be "good" or outstanding in the contribution they make to improving services overall for children and young people decreased from 78 per cent to 73 per cent.

Ofsted said it found the increase in councils judged to be "inadequate" overall and at keeping children safe a "cause for concern".

Commenting on the APAs, Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert said: "Many local authorities continue to work hard to improve the services that they provide for children and young people.

"However, I am concerned that some services provided for the most vulnerable children and young people remain inadequate. Where this has been found in the APA, we have clearly identified where improvements are needed.

"We would expect those working in children's services to address these issues as an urgent priority with support from their local government office. We will be inspecting next year to ensure they make good progress."

Ofsted recently came under fire when it emerged that last year its APA rated children's services at Haringey Council in north London, the authority at the centre of the Baby P scandal, as "good".

But this year the now-notorious council was graded as "inadequate", both overall for children's services and for keeping children safe.

The three other local authorities graded as inadequate overall for children's services are Doncaster, Milton Keynes and Surrey.

The seven other local authorities assessed as inadequate for keeping children safe are Birmingham, Doncaster, Essex, Reading, Surrey, West Sussex, and Wokingham.

Ofsted announced today that APAs will be scrapped and replaced by a new inspection system next year - called the Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA).

It said CAAs will ensure a "stronger focus on frontline practice", including annual unannounced inspection visits in every local authority.

In turn, these will be used to bring forward full inspections where concerns about the welfare and safeguarding of children are raised.

The abolition of APAs should appease those MPs who last week mauled the current system.

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, raised "real concerns" about the inspection practices of Ofsted at the Commons.

Mr Sheerman was speaking the day after his committee took evidence from Ms Gilbert, who shocked MPs when she told them that around three children a week die as a result of abuse.

Ms Gilbert told the committee that 210 children died as a result of abuse between April last year and this August.

Among them was 17-month-old Baby P - who died in August last year after suffering more than 50 injuries at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger - despite 60 contacts with the authorities over eight months.

The Commons Children and Families Select Committee is planning to investigate Ofsted.