Serious failings found in council's child services

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The Independent Online

Serious problems in child protection services at three councils have been uncovered following surprise inspections, it was revealed today.

Children's services watchdog Ofsted found a wide range of serious failings during their examinations of councils in Rotherham, Calderdale and North Yorkshire.

In a drive to prevent another Baby Peter tragedy, inspectors looked into the councils between June and August this year and later wrote to each council to outline areas that needed "priority action".

The inspection found social workers in Rotherham had such a wide range of work to do that their ability to deliver services to protect vulnerable children was being undermined.

Data and IT systems were found not to be up-to-date regarding investigations and managers' reduced email inbox size meant they had difficulty transferring case information on vulnerable children in a "timely and appropriate" way.

Managers were also prevented from fully exercising their "decision-making and supervisory responsibilities" because of performance management systems and auditing policies.

Senior managers at Calderdale council held crisis talks with Ofsted officials after the investigation revealed that some casework relating to the safety of children had not been properly investigated.

Ofsted said the council agreed with the failure and "acted promptly to ensure that the cases identified are further investigated to ensure the safety of these children".

The letter to Calderdale council bosses went on to state that joint investigations involving police and social workers was not always carried out effectively and, as a result, correct procedures in some cases were not always followed.

Ofsted officials also found fault with the way in which North Yorkshire council handled two cases where children claimed they had been assaulted by an adult at home.

The council was found to have not followed correct procedures to ensure the safety of the children but were praised by the watchdog when they "immediately took appropriate action" to rectify the problem.

Ofsted also found that one North Yorkshire care team had 50 unallocated referrals, some of which dated back to March 2009, which were waiting to be looked at.

There were also 25 cases which had been allocated for workers to carry out initial assessments that had not been completed.

In another team, there were 15 cases with initial assessments completed, but which were now unallocated due to staffing issues within that team.

Unannounced inspections were introduced by Ofsted earlier this year following the death of 17-month-old Baby P - Peter Connolly - who was on Haringey Council's at-risk list of children, but who died after suffering more than 50 injuries inflicted by his mother and her boyfriend.

Rotherham Council said in a statement that it had already taken steps to rectify the problem areas highlighted by the inspection.

It said new Family Support Workers had been recruited to take on some social work direct with families, as well as new business support staff who will keep systems up-to-date more efficiently,

It added that work is also under way to look at the Information and IT systems to see how they can be developed.

Councillor Shaun Wright, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People's Services, said: "This additional inspection has helped us to focus on this particular very important area to see in detail what we need to do to tackle both the issues raised in our review and those in this study and that's why we have been able to take immediate action.

"In addition we will now be looking closely at the inspectors' recommendations as part of our review of service to build on our strengths and help us improve the care and support given to children, young people and their families in Rotherham."

North Yorkshire council said in a statement that there had been a "significant increase" in work given to social workers over the last few months because of "increased public and professional anxiety caused by the death of Baby Peter in Haringey."

The statement also said that the compulsory implementation of a new electronic record system called the Integrated Children's System (ICS) required by the Department for Children, Schools and Families has made additional demands on social work time.

The statement said that in the last two years it has invested in children centres, a range of family support services, parent support advisers and the introduction of the common assessment process.

It added: "This growth in front line services means North Yorkshire is adequately resourced to meet current demand."