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Gloucestershire Business News

Improvements to services for vulnerable children are too slow says watchdog

Gloucestershire County Council has been told to speed up the improvements it is making to its children's services.

In some cases children continue to be exposed to risk without effective action being taken to protect them, according to the watchdog Ofsted.

Last year the council's children's services were judged to be inadequate. Last month Ofsted made a progress monitoring visit to the authority.

In a report Ofsted said that while the council was making progress in improving services it still faced challenges.

It said: "While inspectors saw some improvement since the last monitoring visit, children in need of help and protection in Gloucestershire continue to experience delay at every point of their involvement with children's services.

"Some children remain in situations of unassessed risk for too long, and others experience chronic neglect or continue to be exposed to risk without effective action being taken to protect them, this is particularly the case for young people experiencing or at risk of sexual exploitation."

Cllr Richard Boyles, cabinet member for children and young people said: "These visits are important because they provide a detailed and independent view of how we're doing. We welcome Ofsted's feedback and the report accurately reflects the improvements we made and the challenges we still face.

"Our biggest concern is that the pace of improvements is still too slow and children in need of protection continue to experience delays. We also know that social work practice is inconsistent, but we are addressing these concerns.

"To change this we are invested in staff, reducing caseloads and improving the systems we use. We are working hard to ensure that children in Gloucestershire are protected and this latest report gives us a clear focus before the next visit in May."

As part of its improvement plan, the council has appointed a new permanent director of children's services, Chris Spencer (pictured right) who will take up the role in March.

Mr Spencer has held director positions in a number of councils, including Redbridge, Hillingdon and Slough. He was once a school teacher before becoming an educational psychologist, working for 12 years with Oxfordshire County Council.

Since the Ofsted report was published in May 2017 the council says it has:

• Recruited additional experienced social workers to reduce caseloads

• Invested in better technology to reduce the time frontline staff spend on paperwork

• Improved the way it monitors quality and performance - which Ofsted highlighted as 'comprehensive and focussed on improving outcomes for children'

• Opened a new public reception for social care and a 'front door' for professionals contacting the service

Leader of the Labour group on the county council Cllr Lesley Williams (Stonehouse) said: "On one hand, nothing in this letter comes as a surprise. We were told after the last inspection that a real cultural shift to improve children's services would take upwards of two years.

"That said, I am as frustrated with the pace of change as OFSTED is. The fact that there is still considerable delay in removing some children from dangerous situations, such as exposure to CSE, is unacceptable.

I'm disappointed that joint working between the police and children's services hasn't improved and that officers are failing to attend strategy discussions. We cannot ensure that children in our county are safe without effective multi-agency working and communication between partners.

"It is worrying that a lot of the issues raised seem to be down to admin, with crucial information not being recorded correctly and action plans varying in quality. This must be addressed immediately.

As a member of the Children's Improvement Board at Gloucestershire County Council, I know that over the last few months there have been a number of changes, such as increasing management capacity, which has improved staff morale, and has been noted by the inspectors.

I look forward to welcoming our new Director of Children's Services, Chris Spencer, in March. We cannot rely on the administration alone to solve the issues that have been brought to light, it must be a concerted effort from social workers on the ground, to the senior leadership team at Shire Hall, the police and with a new Director at the helm I feel that the service will improve. It is imperative that it does."

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