Watchdog’s ‘serious concerns’ over KCC social work

Children are at risk of harm due to inadequate and late assessments by Kent County Council’s social services team, Ofsted has warned.

The watchdog carried out an unannounced inspection of the department last month and has now ordered the authority to address staffing and management issues.

In a letter to KCC group managing director Katherine Kerswell and social services director Rosalind Turner, Ofsted inspector Brendan Parkinson said the shortcomings would likely be reflected with a lower score in the county’s next annual assessment.

The letter reads: “A significant shortfall in the capacity of qualified, experienced social workers and weaknesses in the quality of team manager oversight on child protection cases in some duty and assessment teams contribute to these serious concerns.”

The social work industry has faced intense scrutiny since the failings that led to the death of Baby P in Haringey, north London, were made public two years ago.

News of the KCC shortcomings highlighted by Ofsted may not come as much of a surprise to former chief executive Peter Gilroy, who in March published a report claiming the authority was “just about coping” with the pressures of preventing a similar scandal.

Mr Gilroy, who spent eight years as KCC’s director of social services before being promoted to the top job in 2004, told KOS Media at the time he thought more children were being put at risk due to social workers becoming over-regulated.

He said: “Is this really going to protect the child when social workers are spending 80 per cent of their time in the office and 20 per cent visiting families? I think we’ve become over-regulated in this area and it’s time we took a step back to reflect.

“What we need are highly competent people who are empowered to make judgements regarding the work they are qualified to carry out.

“If all we have is a young workforce that spends the majority of its time behind desks, then don’t be surprised if your risks go up.”

The Ofsted warning represents the second time this year concerns have been raised about KCC’s children’s social services department.

In March, Ms Turner was forced to issue a public apology when it emerged an inexperienced social worker failed to act on a warning about a man who went on to kill his baby daughter.

Christopher Sellman, 24, from Tunbridge Wells, was later found guilty of the November, 2008, manslaughter of 25-day-old Tiffany and is now serving a five-year jail term.

Responding to the Ofsted report, a KCC spokesman said the shortfall in experienced social workers was a national problem but that it was committed to ensuring good outcomes for all its children.

He added: “We are pleased with the strengths and good practice found during the inspection and are already working to address the areas of development identified within the Ofsted letter.

“The priority action refers to making sure there are timely assessments in all cases, but acknowledges the pressure our social care teams are under.

“This is due to the increasing number of referrals while we are also carrying vacancies in social workers. KCC continues to run successful recruitment campaigns but there is still a shortfall. This is a national issue and we recognise its seriousness.”