Child protection services judged 'unsatisfactory and inconsistent'
Posted on 13/10/2016 by
Government criticised by National Audit Office for piecemeal approach to reform and ‘poor progress’ helping children in need since Baby P tragedy in 2010
Six years of social work reforms championed by David Cameron aimed at driving up standards in child protection services have largely failed to deliver improvements, the government’s spending watchdog has concluded.
The National Audit Office (NAO) says that despite a series of initiatives from Number 10, the quality of help and protection for children in need provided by councils in England has been “unsatisfactory and inconsistent, suggesting systemic rather than local failure”.
The NAO criticises the government for what it calls “poor progress” on its 2010 promise to overhaul child protection services in the wake of the Baby Pcontroversy, and highlights its “piecemeal” attempts to improve failing services.
One in five council children’s services departments are currently rated inadequate by Ofsted, while just 23% are judged to be good, the report says. As of last month Department for Education officials were formally intervening in 26 out of 153 local authority social work departments.
Sir Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “Six years have passed since the department recognised that children’s services were not good enough. It is extremely disappointing that, after all its efforts, far too many children’s services are still not good enough.”
The national picture of wide variations in child protection quality and sluggish improvements emerges against a backdrop of rising demand for services in recent years. The number of youngsters on child protection plans rose by 94% over the past decade, the NAO said, with youngsters in deprived areas of the country 11 times more likely to be on a protection plan than those in the most affluent areas.
NAO chief executive Sir Amyas Morse: Far too many children’s services are still not good enough.’ Photograph: Anna Saverimuttu Photography/National Audit Office
The government has introduced a series of reforms to social work in recent years designed to reduce bureaucracy in frontline social work, introduce competition to the provision of core child protection services, and promote “innovation” in social work practice with the ambition of improving the quality of all services by 2020.
However, the NAO criticised ministers’ “piecemeal” arrangements for identifying and spreading good practice. “While the Department [for Education] is not solely responsible for improving the widespread failings of the system it is the only body that can oversee and push systemic change.
“However, even taking into account the challenge of reforming services delivered through local authorities, and the time needed to achieve systemic improvements, so far the outcomes have been disappointing.”
The report finds that one of the main predictors of a good quality service was financial investment in ensuring manageable caseloads for social workers and retaining a stable local workforce. In most councils rated good a social worker had responsibility for 10 to 14 children in need, while in others the caseload could be as high as 35. Similarly, councils rated good had below average levels of vacancies and agency staff, while councils rated inadequate had above average levels.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Children must be kept safe from harm and since 2010 we have been making ambitious changes to improve our child protection system. We are now taking tough action to drive up standards in children’s services across the country, stepping in when councils aren’t doing well enough and linking them up with better-performing local authorities to share best practice.
“We have also cut red tape so that social workers can spend more time actually supporting families. But we are going further and introducing new laws to strengthen protection for the most vulnerable children and transforming the support available to them, as set out in plans we published this summer.”
Ruth Allen, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers said: “The report shows a concerning lack of consistency and quality of services across the country. More early intervention to robustly address concerns rather than waiting for Ofsted failure is a clear message and there is a pressing need for a strategy that enables improvement across all authorities. The current approach appears from the evidence to not be bringing about coherent, whole system change.”
Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Looking after children and keeping them safe is one of the most important jobs that a council does, and local authorities have been working hard to deal with the significant increase in demand for child protection services in recent years.
He added: “Local authorities have faced significant funding cuts over this same period, and with such a big rise in demand for services, it’s vital that local authorities have the resources they need to keep children and young people safe.”
Source: The Guardian