WALTHAM FOREST: Damning report into children’s services

A SIGNIFICANT number of vulnerable children in Waltham Forest have been put at risk due to council failures, a damning report has found.

An unannounced inspection of its children and young people’s services department in June by watchdog Ofsted discovered failures among staff to follow procedures and poor management.

It was discovered that the cases of some children potentially at risk of child abuse and neglect were closed early before thorough checks into their welfare had been carried out.

And some referral warnings about vulnerable youngsters were not initially judged to be issues of child protection.

As a result of the inspection, the department’s deputy director, Linda Cointepas, has left the authority by “mutual agreement” – according to council documents.

An emergency meeting of its staffing committee will be held on Thursday (August 4) to appoint a temporary replacement for Ms Cointepas.

The meeting agenda states: “The council must ensure that it has immediate and proven senior leadership capacity in children and families.

“This is urgently required to ensure a positive outcome for the impending “announced” inspection of children’s services within the next few months.”

However the department will also have to find a new executive director. Chris Kiernan, who currently holds the post, is to retire at the end of this month, the council has said.

The Ofsted report said that while the department did meet guidelines in some areas, there was a need for urgent “priority action”.

It said: “In a significant proportion of recent cases reviewed during the inspection children were placed at risk of inadequate protection.

“Some referrals which clearly indicated that children were at risk of harm were inappropriately progressed as initial assessments rather than as child protection enquiries.

“These were then prematurely closed without the full range of risks being recognised and appropriately assessed.

“In other cases where children were subject to child protection enquiries, planning and analysis of emerging risks was poor.

“The failure to effectively engage children and young people led to an incomplete understanding of the risks to them and other children and young people.

“As a result protection plans were inadequate leaving them at continued risk of harm. Management oversight of this work was poor and failed to remedy these significant weaknesses.”

After concerns were raised, the report said: “Senior managers gave an immediate commitment to re-examine these cases and also to audit other recent cases to ensure there is no unidentified risk of harm to children.”

The report did say that all children who were referred were allocated qualified social workers who “promptly undertake all assessments and child protection enquiries.”

And it also said that when risk of significant harm to children was identified at the point of referral prompt action was taken.

The department’s sharing of information with police on child abuse allegations was also praised.

Ofsted inspector Sheena Doyle said the inspection could impact on the council’s annual assessment of its children’s services department.

She said: “If the concerns raised by the identified area for priority action are not resolved by the findings of a subsequent inspection, the overall rating of the local authority’s children’s services is unlikely to be better than ‘performing poorly’.”

A council spokesman said: “These findings are concerning and we began acting on them as soon as they were brought to our attention.

“We have reassessed each and every case where concerns were raised and can confirm that appropriate action has been taken to ensure these children are not at risk.

“We have strengthened the management of the service and we have secured extra support from the London Regional Safeguarding Advisers who are independently auditing and quality-checking our work.

“Children’s social care is a complex, difficult and challenging service and social workers are dedicated professionals who have a huge responsibility as guardians of some of the most vulnerable children in the borough.

“Nevertheless, poor standards of practice are not acceptable.”

He added: “We are absolutely committed to the wellbeing of the borough’s young people and while these findings represent clear challenges for the service we are confident that we have the means in place to address and act upon Ofsted’s concerns.”