Tag Archives: children’s social services

Children’s social services: impressive despite circumstances

It’s official: Council-run children’s social services departments in England are performing well, in general.

Ofsted has published its 2009 children’s services ratings and revealed that 68% of the 152 councils are performing ‘excellently’ or ‘well’, while another 25% are ‘adequate’.

Only 9 councils – 6% – are judged to be ‘poor’, including Haringey, which neatly avoids another media storm over Baby P.

While the media, inevitably, has thus far focused on the poorly performing councils, it could be argued that it is surprising that more children’s services departments are not failing.

Take Birmingham, for example, one of the councils deemed ‘poor’, much to their chagrin. There, about a fifth of the 722 posts in children’s services were unfulfilled, and absenteeism ran at 25 days per person, according to a report in the Birmingham Post. After some quick calculations in the office on the back of a Post-it, we worked out that about a third of the workforce was missing. Those that were present were dealing with 800 child abuse cases a month, so it’s no wonder the department was at breaking point.

While measures are now in place to improve matters in Birmingham, I doubt that its situation is unique. Nationally, vacancy levels are running at 9.5% of frontline posts in children and families teams, with 9.6% annual turnover of employees, according to the interim report by the Social Work Task Force. Sickness levels are also high – an average of 12 days per social worker – which is 60% more than the national average, according to a recent report in The Independent.

Combine that with rising levels of referrals – the dual effects of Baby P and the recession – and you have to marvel that more children’s services departments aren’t failing and there aren’t more Baby P’s.

It also serves to make Ofsted’s findings look all the more impressive, especially as chief inspector Christine Gilbert claims these inspections were tougher than those in previous years.

It just shows what a good job the majority of social workers do under increasingly difficult circumstances, and should be cause for celebration.

While there is still much work to do to improve services – and the lot of the social worker – it needs to be recognised that a good job is being done in the vast majority of cases.

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Ofsted needs to learn from criticism

Ofsted’s annual report on care, education and skills is out today, but rather than celebrate progress and successes, various groups – notably the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services – have wasted no time in putting the boot into the regulator.

The LGA says Ofsted “should be the calm, measured voice that helps to make child protection services work better rather than feeding people’s fears.”

Then, more provocatively – and obviously aimed at journalists looking for a juicy public-sector punch-up – the LGA added, “Ofsted has become too concerned about protecting its own reputation and places a disproportionate emphasis on publicly highlighting weaknesses in child protection without adequately reflecting the huge amount of good work being done by councils across the country.”

Meanwhile, the ADCS – which has a fractious relationship with Ofsted at the best of times – fuelled the fire with its own report. It said there are “very serious problems” with the current inspection model and that it is “ripe” for reform. However, ADCS did say that Ofsted should continue to inspect education and children’s services.

While regulators aren’t there to be popular, the criticism of Ofsted is stinging and with such venomous feelings towards it indicates that there are problems that need to be addressed.

For the public to have confidence in children’s services and education there has to be confidence in the regulator that governs it. If this is being undermined, it needs to be addressed quickly.

For instance, there is certainly a groundswell of opinion that Ofsted needs to get away from a perceived ‘box-ticking’ culture when it assesses services; it has been said to me that it can feel if they are being ‘marked’ during assessments.

And while Ofsted could probably do more to publicise the good work that is being done within children’s services, this is not solely their problem – the whole sector needs to be better at flagging up good work.

But Ofsted really needs to show that it can recognise criticism and learn from it – much like that it tells councils to after assessments. That way, everyone has the chance to improve and develop.

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