“Inconsistent and patchy”, “lengthy periods where potential risk to children was not assessed” and examples of “very poor decision-making which left vulnerable children at risk” – the latest Ofsted assessment of Norfolk County Council’s child protection services makes for difficult reading.

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It brands the authoritys offering as inadequate in all areas from the help and protection given to children and families and the quality of practice, to the leadership and governance of the department.

Last night childrens services leaders in the county were faced with a long list of action points which inspectors want addressed immediately, or within three or six months time.

Summing up the overall effectiveness of the safeguarding service in Norfolk, Ofsted said: The delivery of arrangements for the protection of children in Norfolk is inconsistent and patchy. While some examples were seen by inspectors of effective intervention, there are too many cases where practice is very poor.

As a result, the council and its partners cannot be confident that all eligible children have been identified, their needs appropriately assessed and plans put in place for the protection.

The authority has now begun talks with the Department for Education (DfE) about what will be done to ensure the service is brought up to standard and the countys children are given the level of protection they deserve.

They are likely to consider three options:

-Outsourcing the running of child protection services to another body;

-Handing it over to an authority which is considered to be offering a good service; or

-Setting up an improvement board.

While the third is the most likely, improvement boards are usually chaired by the chief executive of the local authority.

With David White set to leave soon, an alternative chairman would need to be found.

Last night a DfE spokesman said it was very concerned to hear of the inspectors judgement, adding: Any failure in childrens services is very serious.

It is vital there is a relentless focus on local arrangements for the protection of children and that Ofsted inspections are rigorous. Ministers are aware of the report and departmental officials are in contact with the council to discuss next steps in order to make sure their plans for improvement are robust and undertaken as a priority.

The Ofsted assessment took place from January 14-24, with inspectors scrutinising 119 cases of the 5,500 children currently being dealt with by Norfolk childrens services either through child protection or as looked after children.

It acknowledges the increased workload of the service which saw 8,500 referrals in 2012/13, compared with 7,500 the year before. There are currently more than 1,000 looked-after children in Norfolk.

This latest report comes just 19 months after a previous assessment judged Norfolk County Councils child protection offering adequate with some inadequate features.

Criticism at that time included the variable performance of safeguarding teams, the response to referrals and completion of assessments, and a lack of information about the health care needs of looked-after children.

Following the publication of the report, in July 2011, the authority put together an action plan to address the problems and regularly updated members of the childrens services overview and scrutiny committee on its progress.

But this time the concerns are even more far-reaching.

Early support offered to children and families was found to be inconsistent, schools are not recognising problems early enough, children and young peoples views and diverse needs are not consistently taken into account and large numbers of children in need do not have an allocated social worker and therefore do not have an assessment of need.

Attempts to complete initial assessments in a timely manner mean they sometimes lack important information, and protection plans can lack details specific to the child in question.

The report welcomes the strong commitment from the countys director of childrens services (Lisa Christensen), chief executive (David White) and childrens services lead member (Alison Thomas) but adds: Despite evidence of scrutiny and challenge from senior leaders, there has been an insufficiently consistent impact on the quality of services to protect children at the front line.

But there are some glimmers of hope.

Inspectors highlight the use of the MASH multi-agency safeguarding hub team where all initial calls about child safety are dealt with by a group which includes police, children and adult health workers, and childrens services staff. It was found to add considerable value to the council and its partners initial response to risk of harm.

Ofsted also welcomed the effort made to recruit more permanent social workers and ensure they are offered career progression, and to support the training of future workers through links with local higher-education establishments.

Last night Mervyn Scutter, childrens services spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: The main concern is for the youngsters in Norfolk for whom this report says they are at risk. That is very, very worrying. Eighteen months ago they [the authority] were told there were problems. People have to ask why it hasnt been sorted out.

He said Alison Thomas, the Conservative administrations cabinet member for childrens services, should ask herself whether shes the right person to carry on and sort this out.

But Labour spokesman Sue Whitaker said now was the wrong time for someone to step down and that stability was what was needed.

She added: One of the glimmers of hope is that, in most areas, they did find there was some good practice. Thats something the council can draw on. Theres something they can build on but it strikes me as an uphill battle.

Jonathan Dunning, Norfolk branch secretary of the Unison union, which represents many of the countys social workers, said he believed child protection services here was of a good standard but said the kind of failings highlighted by Ofsted were symptomatic of a local authority hit by central government cuts. He added: Unison has committed we will work with them [the council] to tackle some of the problems identified.

Click here to view the full report.

17 comments

  • Ms Thomas, seen desperate and freezing next to Long Stratton's village sign, hoping for a bypass tomorrow, has failed Norfolk's children, she justified an expensive post paying over 175K when elected and has failed to explain that the senior management review is looking at changing the structure and delivery of children services. Cllr. Borrett's first job is....?

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Monday, February 25, 2013

  • NCC want to bankrupt Norfolk, stupid waste incinerator deals, and buying RAF Coltishall amongst all the other stupid deals, when they should be spending our money on decent services. Roll on the election we need change.

    Report this comment

    Jack

    Sunday, February 24, 2013

  • I had an issue over school buses a couple of years ago and I wrote to the lady at the top and the councillor with the portfolio and neither bothered to reply They need to be replaced to give the children of Norfolk a chance

    Report this comment

    Jacob Burns

    Monday, February 25, 2013

  • Yes child protection is only the tip of the iceberg. Fostering is a complete shambles and as for complaining, don't bother they will not listen. They even changed the complaints procedure to suit themselves.

    Report this comment

    theanchovy

    Saturday, February 23, 2013

  • I would agree they don't take parents complaints serious

    Report this comment

    miss Anon

    Monday, February 25, 2013

  • Under today’s headline - Could Jennifer Mills-Westley murder have been prevented? The revelation [that her murderer had been released from a Welsh psychiatric unit but months before] led to a call for an “urgent” inquiry by politicians including Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, who said at the time that “everyone in Hellesdon and the UK wants to know how this tragedy happened”. Published yesterday was a statement from the victim’s daughters, who have endured the heartache of losing their mother to this horrendous crime for the past 21 months, in which they thanked those who have supported them though this ordeal. “Words alone cannot express our thanks to the support provided by Victim Support and the Lucie Blackman Trust - Missing Abroad. However, despite our expectations, we have been disappointed by the lack of any other support; notably the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and our mum’s MP in her hometown of Norfolk.” The MP in question is Chloe Smith.

    Report this comment

    Mr Cameron Isaliar

    Saturday, February 23, 2013

  • I would be interested to no which councils ie city and towns were of poor practice

    Report this comment

    miss Anon

    Monday, February 25, 2013

  • We fought a 3 year battle to get our grandchildren removed from an abusive mother, and living with their daddy. The wheels of child protection rolled very slowly, with so much red tape, they were at risk for far longer than necessary. Even now, two years later, one of them is still severely emotionally disturbed. We got the right decision eventually, but these children would not be so messed up if they had been removed earlier. We tried to complain at the time, but also found the complaints procedure is biased towards the council and it's very difficult to actually make a formal complaint about anyone, or anything. However, I have to say we had a fantastic social worker who did everything she could to help us, and she was as frustrated with the system as we were. We desperately need more skilled social workers on board to share the load, and some laws need to be changed to speed up the legal process and protect more children as soon as they are identified.

    Report this comment

    Carol Bolton

    Saturday, February 23, 2013

  • JB - I agree 100%. As a carer for 7 years I'm astounded on an almost daily basis by their inadequacy and inability to follow the most basis rules and regulations. For the first 4 years we did not know that we should be having supervision meetings recorded and signed - a legal requiement!

    Report this comment

    ADB

    Saturday, February 23, 2013

  • as new and very disgruntled fosters carers this council gets exactly what it deserves. they are totally unprofessional, with no urgency other than protecting them selves in readiness for their "civil service" career and what that might bring. put this area into a business environment it would have failed and closed years ago

    Report this comment

    JB

    Saturday, February 23, 2013

  • “As a result, the council and its partners cannot be confident that all eligible children have been identified, their needs appropriately assessed and plans put in place for the protection.” This is of course dangerous as it means that children who need it are not being protected but it's corollary is even worse. surely the gross incompetence shown by children's services could result in children being unnecessarily removed from their parents for no good reason. We know once it's done that children's services never back down

    Report this comment

    theanchovy

    Saturday, February 23, 2013

  • Fear not, it wil all be blamed on White. He's the obvious scapegoat because he will be gone soon, leaving the real culprits (LC and AT) to carry on as before, failing the children of Norfolk.

    Report this comment

    Mr Cameron Isaliar

    Saturday, February 23, 2013

  • They are likely to consider three options what about option 4? Resign immediately!!! The Cabinet Member Alison Thomas is being paid a considerable allowance for NOT doing the job. Get on to it Borat and prove you are fit to lead. Are you man or mouse?

    Report this comment

    maryjane

    Saturday, February 23, 2013

  • Farquarson-Smythe "This is all about lack of funds to undermine the system and "Outsourcing."...Google the two well paid head honchos, and you'll find failing and low care standards a common trait. Hackney, Lambeth ,Nottingham and now Norfolk.

    Report this comment

    nrg

    Sunday, February 24, 2013

  • This is all about lack of funds to undermine the system and "Outsourcing" or to you and me Privatisation by the back door. Watch this space !

    Report this comment

    Farquarson-Smythe

    Sunday, February 24, 2013

  • All these head honchos earning hundreds of thousands pounds, and yet we see the real evidence of their worth ....inadequate.

    Report this comment

    nrg

    Saturday, February 23, 2013

  • i recently took several complaints against Norwich Norfolk children services , social worker and her manager to the complaints procedure i received a poor excuse of an apology i emailed back to the complaints procedure at Norfolk county council explaining unsatisfactory response i never once heard back they are completely incompetent they are not interested in parents views or there complaints social workers do as they please " illegally " and its always justified they do not have our children's best interests only there own the whole system is a disgrace thousands of children should not be in care the social services say we work with families that is a lie they do not just look at the case of Norfolk children's services who went to France to illegally snatch a baby :

    Report this comment

    miss Anon

    Monday, February 25, 2013

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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