Swift response to child protection report – May 2013

In May, Devon County Council leaders issued a swift response to a report finding its child protection services inadequate.

They said they were already taking steps to deal with a number of issues set to be highlighted by Ofsted inspectors in a report next week.

They declared that the safety of children in Devon was an absolute priority.

They pointed out that the inspectors had not reported on a single child who was at risk of immediate harm.

And they said the inspectors noted staff were following child protection procedures correctly.

Devon’s new Cabinet member for children’s services, Will Mumford, and the Strategic Director People, Jennie Stephens, were responding to an Ofsted report which is expected to brand the county’s child protection services as inadequate.

They said: “We do not intend to challenge the report. The inspectors have reached a judgement and we will abide by their findings.

“We would, however, point out that their report acknowledges we were already making improvements to our services – in line with Government guidance –  before their unannounced visit, but that these changes have not yet had time to bear fruit.

“The inspectors were also clear that our social workers were doing a good job in the communities they serve.

“They said our staff were enthusiastic and hard-working and regularly spent time talking to children and young people and listening to their views.

“They said our schools and our staff were good at understanding when children were having problems and they were good at helping families with difficulties.

“Their main criticism was that our written records of the work our staff are doing in the field were not as good as they should be.”

The inspectors concluded: “Social workers were often able to articulate the concerns, risks and protective factors with more clarity than in their written assessments.”

Ms Stephens said: “We have immediately strengthened our quality assurance processes to check and check again that the key decisions being made are accurate and that our written reports clearly reflect the work being undertaken.

“Ofsted has given us some very clear messages about how we must improve our child protection services and we will rise to the challenge they have set us.”

The County Council has already undertaken:

  • A comprehensive re-organisation which will ensure 40 more experienced social workers and more support staff in the field
  • Targeted training for all professionals on the front line
  • A recruitment campaign for more children’s social workers
  • A renewed emphasis on those areas which the report recognised as good practice, such as the regional body to target children at risk of sexual exploitation set up with the police and other partners, the work on domestic violence, the support for families through family group conferences and the support for young people who are privately fostered.

Ms Stephens said Devon did not have any children’s cases which were not allocated to an identified social worker.

She said there had also been a significant increase in the number of applications to take children into care.

Mr Mumford said: “It is clear that Ofsted is continually raising the bar for its inspections.

“That is only right because we are dealing with the care and protection of some of the most vulnerable members of society.

“However Eileen Munro criticised some aspects of the inspection procedure in her national review into child protection.

“She found there was too much of an emphasis on process and procedures and recording information and not enough on the outcomes for children.

“She said, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

“Naturally we are disappointed with the results of this inspection.

“We already have an Action Plan in place to respond to the findings and I will be working very closely with Jennie Stephens, our senior leaders and staff to ensure that when the inspectors return they will be able to see a raft of improvements in our services.”

Source: Devon County Council News Centre article.