Hundreds of Gloucestershire children in care to have cases reviewed

HUNDREDS of vulnerable children will have their welfare urgently reviewed following a damning report into the care system in Gloucestershire.

In the report, published today, inspectors who visited the county last month brand its system for protecting youngsters as ‘inadequate’.

Although bosses at Gloucestershire County Council insist no children have been put at risk, Ofsted has ordered the authority to review the care package for every child who is subject to a protection plan – approximately 400 cases.

The importance of robust systems to protect children was highlighted in 2009 when details of the abuse suffered by Baby P before his death in London became public.

Paul McLain, the council’s cabinet member for young people’s services, insists the Ofsted report has not highlighted any issues the authority was not already aware of.

He said: “In terms of the reports concerning safeguarding and looking after children, it isn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know.

“We identified issues they were addressing 18 months ago and the changes that were put in place are starting to pay dividends.”

Mr McLain said the council had ended its approach of officers ruling the service from Shire Hall. The new system involves stronger links between social workers and the community.

The council will increase its budget for targeted youth work from £2.2 million to £3.5m for the next financial year.

Council chiefs say inspections have become tougher since the Baby P case and point out 30 per cent of authorities have been rated inadequate.

Inspectors carried out a snap visit between November 29 and December 10 and graded four aspects of safeguarding as ‘inadequate’.

The report says in January 2010 poor referrals resulted in some children being left vulnerable to significant harm and that ‘this is still the case’.

It says that in too many cases there have been delays in social work which have exposed children and young people to risk.

The inspectors found three opportunities to follow up on a child once subject to a protection plan had not been taken.

Mr McLain said there were currently about 400 children on what was formerly known as the Child Protection Register, up from 265 in March 2009.

The Ofsted report notes the county has taken on 30 more workers in the past six months to cope with the increase in demand and improve its service with more experienced staff.

Mr McLain admitted retaining staff was difficult in the wake of the Baby P case.

The inspectors say instability at senior level had contributed to the poor assessment, with many new to their jobs.

Mr McLain said: “I would not call the issues raised in the report negativity, but Ofsted has to be very careful with how it assesses these services.

“We have put in place the management and we know the approach we are taking is the right one and they have said the building blocks are there.”

No heads are expected to roll at the council following the poor report.

In the past year, 5,688 case referrals were made to the authority, of which 60 per cent were found to be of no risk.

The report says this is high and indicates ‘agencies are still not confident about the most suitable means of support’.

In one case, the authority was asked to look into a girl’s attempt to join the Guides.

Mr McLain said he would rather a large number of children went through the process than one be put at risk.

The number of referrals was up from 4,441 in 2008/09 and 4,294 in 2007/08.

NHS Gloucestershire director of clinical development, Jill Crook, said: “The NHS in Gloucestershire works with all agencies to ensure, where possible, concerns are dealt with at the appropriate level.”

Ofsted interviewed 44 children and young people receiving council services and 23 parents and carers before writing its report.

Services for children in care were rated ‘adequate’.

The inspectors said children’s services were performing well overall, with school results considered strong.