The councillor in charge of overseeing children’s services at Nottingham City Council has apologised after inspectors found “serious failures” were putting young people at risk.
Ofsted inspectors say the department’s rating has fallen from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘inadequate’.
The watchdog published its findings on Monday (September 5) after an inspection at the service in July this year.
During the inspection, Ofsted found the service, which can look after as many as 650 young people at any given time, left some children at “continued risk of harm” when first in need of support.
Councillor Cheryl Barnard (Lab), portfolio holder for children, young people and schools, says the Labour-led council is already improving the service.
She said: “Our overall performance wasn’t where it should be and I’m extremely sorry some of our children are not getting the right support at the right time.
“We are taking the feedback and the recommendations from the report to make the necessary changes to improve services.”
In their report, inspectors say the council’s multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) had “significant, widespread and systemic” weaknesses, leaving city children without enough protection and waiting up to six weeks to meet a social worker.
They also found management was not providing social workers with direction or overseeing the length of time children were processed.
And, when allegations of significant harm were first presented, decision-making within the MASH was not quick enough – continuing to expose children to harm and leaving them without safety plans.
Cllr Barnard added: “We’ve taken immediate action over the summer to make improvements in key areas.
“We’re bringing in an additional service manager to improve management oversight in MASH, we’re recruiting eight additional social workers and we’re increasing the missing children’s team.
“I’m quite encouraged Ofsted acknowledged the improvements we have made and we need to build on that to get consistency right across the service.
“The report recognises the commitment right across the council and we’re all committed to ensuring services improve.
“The children deserve nothing less and we always want to improve our services to provide the very best for our children.”
The Ofsted findings followed an assessment in November last year identifying “significant shortfalls” in the MASH system, including backlogs and children not being safeguarded.
The inspectors said management intervention led to a further backlog after more children were identified, with additional resources not enough to improve response times.
Assessing management within the department, the inspectors said it was “inconsistent” and did not offer an “effective process” for assessing children, leaving their needs “not fully understood”.
The council says it has taken action to address these issues, with a new manager to enter the department and eight new social workers to be recruited.
Ofsted also found issues with homeless children not being provided “suitable accommodation” to meet their needs, and return-home interviews not being conducted for children who went missing from the service.
There were cases, the inspectors added, when staff were “unclear about the whereabouts” of children attending part-time education.
In their report, the inspectors also said the experiences of children who needed help and protection were inadequate, while the impact of leaders and the experience of children leaving the service required improvement.
This led to the wider service being graded ‘inadequate’ overall.
The report said: “Services for children who need help and protection are inadequate because there are serious failures, leaving children at continued risk of harm when they are first presented as in need of support.
“Other services have deteriorated, particularly responses when children are first presented as potentially in need of help and protection.
“These services are too slow to identify and respond to risks of harm to children. Management oversight and supervision remains inconsistent and is not supporting social workers effectively.”
Ofsted recommended the council should invest in more social workers to support children and young people – an action the authority has already taken.
It also asked for more places to be created for children who need to come into care, for greater support for people aged 21 and over who leave the service and for increased support for homeless young people.
And, despite calling for improvements, the inspectors also acknowledged some progress has been made.
This included children being “well-supported” and developing “strong relationships” once they are allocated a social worker.
There was also a “clear process” in place when intervention was needed and both the emotional and mental health needs of children are being met.
Inspectors also praised foster carers for providing consistent, good-quality care and said children were matched for adoption “quickly” and often adopted with their siblings.
The authority will now draw up an action plan to address the concerns raised by Ofsted and will have between four and six monitoring visits from the watchdog in the next 18 months.
This will be followed by a full inspection, with visits to focus on areas where improvements are most needed.
An improvement board, chaired by an independent official appointed by the Department for Education, will monitor the authority against its improvement plan.
• See full report and story: Nottingham City Council Children’s Services rated Inadequate by Ofsted
• Just the report here: Nottingham City Council Ofsted