Inspection reveals action needed on Stockton vulnerable children’s services
A CRITICAL Ofsted report has revealed a “significant number” of vulnerable children in Stockton had either not been seen or not had their protection needs assessed by social services.
An unannounced inspection of contact, referral and assessment arrangements in Stockton Council’s children’s services identified two areas that need “priority action”.
This included reviewing vulnerable children cases “to ensure that all the children concerned were safe”.
Information sharing between the Probation Service and the council about convicted adults who pose a risk to children was also judged to be “poor” and in need of improving.
A number of areas for development were also highlighted by Her Majesty’s Inspector, Mary Varley.
Among strengths identified by the Ofsted report was that staff in the children’s services were “committed to delivering positive outcomes for children”.
Social services chiefs in Stockton have pledged to “learn from the findings” and said they have already taken action in response.
In July last year the Gazette reported how Stockton social services was being stretched to the limit after a massive rise in child welfare calls and investigations.
An internal report warned the “significant and continuing” rise in social care workload could potentially impact on Stockton Council’s ability to “effectively safeguard children”.
The Ofsted inspection, earlier this month, sampled “the quality and effectiveness” of contact, referral and assessment arrangements and their impact on minimising the incidence of child abuse and neglect.
The report said: “In a significant proportion of cases examined, inspectors were unable to ascertain from electronic recording that children had been seen and their needs for protection had been appropriately or promptly assessed.
“These cases were brought to the attention of the council. Immediate action was taken to review each case and ensure that all the children concerned were safe.”
The inspector said the issues identified included:
:: A lack of recognition of potential risk;
:: Inappropriate closure of cases before risk had been properly assessed, and
:: Unacceptable delays in commencing assessment and poor recording.
“Senior managers gave a prompt undertaking to thoroughly review the cases of all children currently involved with the service to ensure that their needs are being addressed,” the report added. On the positive side the report said: “Senior managers have clearly recognised the need to increase the council’s capacity to respond to referrals.
“This has been strengthened through the creation of a central duty team.”
It went on to say that staff “value the involvement and interest shown by senior managers and are offered good opportunities to contribute to developing the service”.
Jane Humphreys, corporate director for children, education and social care at Stockton, said: “We welcome this inspection and will ensure that we learn from the findings.
“Prior to the inspection we have already taken a number of steps to test out the effectiveness of contact, referral, and assessment arrangements within Stockton and this inspection has largely confirmed the areas identified as requiring further development.
“The report highlights the positive commitment of staff and the strengths of the recently created central duty team, but also sets out a number of challenges for us.
“We now have a robust action plan in place which we will ensure is implemented in order to fully respond to all these areas.
“The wellbeing of children is of the utmost importance to Stockton Council and we will continue to work closely with our partners to ensure that children growing up locally are appropriately safeguarded.
“Additional resources have already been made available to respond to some of these challenges and if needed further resources will be made available as part of our ongoing commitment to continuous improvement.”
Lucia Saiger, director of offender management, National Probation Service Teesside, said: “Together with Stockton Council, we had already recognised that the issue of our arrangements for sharing information on individuals with whom we were working, and who might pose a risk to children, needed improvement.
“Before the inspection we had been working together on measures to improve the systems and we will obviously take into account the inspection findings.”
Other areas for development included record keeping, referrals from other agencies and managerial support of unqualified staff.