Ofsted finds Cornwall children’s services ‘inadequate’

Children’s services in Cornwall have been condemned as “inadequate” in a detailed report drawn up after an unannounced visit by Ofsted.

The report expresses particular concern about the way children and young people who are at risk are offered protection. It concludes that referrals are not dealt with in a “timely way” or handled consistently.

“Children in need of protection and safeguarding are not always identified well,” the report says.

Senior managers are branded “ineffective” and management support for staff is not considered up to scratch. The report finds problems in the way staff are vetted and barred, and says the quality of work to prevent youngsters from misusing drugs and alcohol is “variable”.

The children’s minister, Dawn Primarolo, said the government was “working urgently” to address the concerns.

“It is deeply concerning that Ofsted’s report highlights fundamental weaknesses in Cornwall’s children’s services,” she said. “We will now ensure the council puts in place full and robust plans, very quickly indeed, that will get to the heart of the problems and secure rapid and sustainable improvement.”

Cornwall’s corporate director for children, schools and families, Dean Ashton, resigned this month ahead of the report’s publication.

In 2008 a review highlighted concerns within children’s services in Cornwall. In July this year an unannounced visit by Ofsted found “significant weaknesses” and led to a full inspection in September.

The report on these inspections concludes: “Safeguarding and child protection referrals are not all responded to in a timely way and there is inconsistency in the application of thresholds by children’s social care in determining whether services should be provided or not.

“Partner agencies express frustration and concern at referrals of children in need not being appropriately responded to. Assessments of children in need of protection are inconsistent in the quality of analysis of the risks and protective factors involved and many lack clarity about the desired outcomes of protection plans.”

The report goes on: “Thresholds for risk and assessment are not well understood by children’s social care and are inconsistently applied thus reducing the council’s ability to provide effective safeguarding services.”

It adds: “Senior managers are ineffective in ensuring that quality assurance and performance management arrangements are used to ensure robust safeguarding systems and practice. Management support for staff in ensuring that policies, procedures and guidance are followed is inconsistent and line managers do not provide sufficiently effective challenge to the quality of child protection and child in need assessments and plans.”

The report was produced after discussions with 79 children and young people receiving services, 41 parents and carers, frontline managers, senior officers, councillors and community representatives. A review of 21 case files for children and young people was also analysed.

Vetting procedures were highlighted. “The recording and monitoring systems for the vetting and barring of staff in children’s services are inadequate … The current decision-making arrangements for the signing off of positive CRB checks are inadequate. Decisions are made at an inappropriate level at middle management,” the report says.