Cambridgeshire County Council has issued a press release in glowing terms about the recent Ofsted inspection of its children’s services. The average reader could be led to believe that the inspection had passed the council with flying colours:
Council Leader Councillor Steve Count said, “I am very pleased that inspectors recognised the commitment to supporting children’s services by the Council as a whole. Children’s services are a very high priority for me personally as Leader and it gives me great confidence that Ofsted have given us an independent vote of confidence that the changes and investment we have made will deliver the improvements needed.”
In fact, however, according to Cambridgeshire’s Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, Ofsted have downgraded the council’s children’s services from ‘good’ (in 2014), to ‘requires improvement’ less than five years later. This is emphatically not a ‘vote of confidence’ in the quality of Children’s Services in Cambridgeshire, says Cllr Nethsingha – but it is a clear sign that the quality of children’s services has moved in the wrong direction in recent years.
“Those of us who have been following the cuts to early help services across Cambridgeshire, with the massive reduction in the number of children’s centres by almost half, and the removal of almost all the locality teams who used to provide early help services to families of older children, will not be surprised that the number of children coming into care in Cambridgeshire has continued to rise,” says Cllr Nethsingha. She goes on to observe that this figure is now significantly above the national average, whereas a few years ago it was significantly below the national average.
“With early help services having taken massive cuts, social care services are under huge pressure, and as the Ofsted report makes clear social worker caseloads are far too high,” she concludes. “I am concerned that not only have the Conservative leadership of the County Council presided over a serious decline in children’s services in Cambridgeshire, but their attitude in the press release seems to indicate that they don’t even recognise how serious the situation facing children in Cambridgeshire now is.”
Quotes from the Ofsted report that did not make it into the County Council press release:
- “The quality and the timeliness of services remain less than good for too many children. For these children, the local authority is not making the positive difference it could and should.”
- “The most significant challenge to the local authority’s ability to provide consistently good services to children, young people and their families has been, and continues to be, the size of caseloads. These are too high for most social workers and unsustainable in some teams. The impact of this is that, too often, social workers and frontline managers have had to focus on the most urgent and important work to secure children’s immediate safety, without sufficient capacity for the follow-up work needed to sustain change within families or to ensure that children in care have permanent homes as soon as possible.”
- “The local authority has made progress in tackling this challenge. Additional investment in staffing and other related measures are reducing caseloads. This is enabling staff to tackle drift and delay in work with children and to improve the quality of services that they receive. However, this progress needs to be sustained and built on before most children receive a consistently good service.”
- “The help and protection that children, young people and their families receive in Cambridgeshire requires improvement. A significant minority of children do not get the help and support they need quickly enough. Too many assessments take longer than they should and do not fully explore underlying problems or the wishes and feelings of children. Significant workload pressures in teams across the county mean that there is much variability in who gets what help and support as well as in its effectiveness.”
The full report can be found at https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/provider/44/80445