Vulnerable children are being failed by social care services in Stoke-on-Trent, according to a damning Ofsted report.
Following an inspection in February, the following areas have been rated as inadequate:
- The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families
- The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection
- The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers
- Overall effectivenes
The report says vulnerable children in the city are not safeguarded.
Services for children have seriously declined 'as a result of poor leadership, management oversight and an absence of clearly evaluated performance information.'
It says that due to insufficient fostering placements to meet local need, children are given places the authority knows to be unsafe.
Inspectors also said social workers caseloads were too high for them to work effectively.
Their view is that the experiences and views of young people are not at the centre of social work practice.
Inspectors say that they did meet a 'considerable number of dedicated and committed social workers', but found they are not being supported to practise safely.
The report says since the last full Ofsted inspection in 2015, the majority of recommendations made at that inspection - and at a focused visit in 2018 - have not been actioned.
The full Ofsted report can be found here.
The city council says it is now making an immediate multi-million pound investment into services, has appointed a new management team and has made direct operational changes to improve responses to contacts from families and agencies.
Council leader Ann James said: “We take the ruling by Ofsted extremely seriously and are very concerned by the findings. In carrying out their inspection, Ofsted officials spent time with frontline social workers. They found that our workers are dedicated and work extremely hard to support children and families, but that there are a number of challenges with social work practice and that more support and challenge is needed from managers. It means that our practices are not robust enough to provide the best protection to meet the needs of our city’s vulnerable young people. This is unacceptable and we are committed to improving our service at pace for our children.
“I’d like to reassure families that we have listened closely to all the comments from inspectors, have identified areas where improvements need to be made, and welcome the support of Ofsted and other partners in helping us to address these issues as quickly as possible. We are absolutely committed to supporting children in our city and improving our services – we will quickly move to a much improved position.”
Council leader Ann James
Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for education and economy, said: “I’d like to reassure families that we are determined to drive the changes that are needed. We have to get the foundations right so that we can deliver a service that is fit for the needs of young people today.
“Ofsted have given us a clear direction on where we need to improve, with a commitment that all agencies come together to implement improvements to services.
“We know what we need to do and have already started this work. A new children’s improvement board has been established, involving partners, which will include the police service, representatives from our schools and the Local Government Association. We are already working closely with Ofsted and the Department for Education to drive improvements for our children.
“We are also working with other authorities who have taken the journey from inadequate to outstanding, to learn from their practices.
“The needs of our city’s children will always remain at the centre of all we do. We have a new management team with the drive and commitment to bring about the changes needed. Our frontline staff work exceptionally hard in very difficult circumstances, and I would like to praise them for their hard work.
“In other areas of children’s services, we are delivering real, life-changing support to our city’s young people. More children now go to good and outstanding schools than ever before, we have successfully lobbied government for a new special educational needs school for the city, and our early years speech and language therapy work is a national leader, helping to ensure that children have the right skills and development to enter education and succeed. We will be bringing the same focus and drive to deliver the improvements needed in all of our social care services to ensure that they are fit for the 21st century."
Councillor Janine Bridges
Ruth Smeeth, MP for Stoke North, said: "The contents of this report are utterly shocking, and a damning indictment on the leadership of Stoke-on-Trent City Council. I am absolutely appalled that the most vulnerable children in our city are being put at risk in this way.
"It is clear that the City Independent and Conservative administration has overseen a complete failure of Children’s Social Care over the last 4 years. The political leadership of the Council are completely unfit for public office. For the sake of the safety of our children they must step down with immediate effect.
"The politicians responsible for keeping our kids safe have failed us, they’ve failed our city, and they’ve failed our families.’
Gareth Snell MP said: "This is an outrageous dereliction of duty on the part of the City Council leadership. There is no greater responsibility for a local authority than keeping our young people safe, and it is clear that on Ann James and Abi Browns watch the council has failed to do that.
"Our children are being put at risk of real and serious harm because of the these peoples' actions. The failures highlighted in this report are shameful and cannot be allowed to continue."
Jack Brereton, MP for Stoke South, said: “It is very disappointing that children’s social care services in Stoke-on-Trent have been rated inadequate by Ofsted. I hope we can see some rapid improvements made and I am reassured some steps have already been taken, such as the establishment of an improvement board that meets weekly.
“It is essential for the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable young people in our city that these services are overhauled to provide long-lasting improvements. The additional funding we have secured locally through retained business rates will be particularly helpful in enabling the necessary reforms.
“The focus must be to improve standards, but we must also see a more effective service that is able to cope with the increasing number of children now in care.”