A KEY area of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s children’s service has been red flagged by watchdog Ofsted.
On the basis of one area social work team showing “serious weaknesses” in child protection investigations, Ofsted inspector Gary Lamb says the whole service, currently rated three star and performing well, will be judged to be performing poorly unless priority action is taken.
In his overall findings from the second unannounced annual inspection of safeguarding at the council, the inspector also lists the strengths of the service, 10 areas where the requirements are met and six areas for improvement.
But in his letter to children’s service director Dr John Stephens, the inspector highlights the failings of the unidentified team and its “poor level of management oversight”.
He accepts there had been a high level of turnover of staff and managers but adds:“Inspectors identified some cases where there had been a failure to adequately manage known risk and provide effective protection, leaving some children at risk of serious harm.”
Mr Lamb adds the issue will be “specifically considered in any future inspection of services to safeguard children within your area”.
He also points out the findings of the inspection may have a “significant impact” on the annual assessment of the whole of the children’s service.
If the issues have not been resolved “the overall rating of the local authority’s children’s services is unlikely to be better than ‘performing poorly’.
This would rank the service among the lowest in the country.
The need for priority action is also likely to lead to a further probe.
Dr Stephens said that following the reorganisation of local government, which saw Cheshire County Council, which had previous responsibility for children’s services, swept away, the new council had immediately recognised the need to improve its safeguarding service.
“A great deal has been achieved since then and that progress has been recognised by Ofsted inspectors following our second unannounced inspection,” said Dr Stephens.
He stressed the need for priority action referred to one particular area of his three star service.
“We had already begun to address some of the concerns highlighted by inspectors and we are confident that actions implemented by this authority are more than adequate to deliver the high standards we demand.
“The safety of children is one of the priorities of this authority and will always continue to be so.”
This is reflected by its ongoing improvements and training, the council points out.
It has also launched a new approach to help everyone involved in safeguarding children inside the council and in other organisations including the police, health, GPs and voluntary bodies.
This covers action to protect children most at risk.
Concerns about the future of the children’s service due to the local government reorganisation were first expressed by outgoing County Hall chief executive Jeremy Taylor.
He said three quarters of the county council’s top managers would not be in charge in the future and he was particularly worried that about losing “hundreds of years” of experience with the clearout of the entire top team in children’s services.
Shortly after the new council had been elected and even before it was in power, Cheshire West and Chester Council leader Cllr Mike Jones (Con, Broxton) picked up on the concerns.
Chief executive Mr Steve Robinson was alerted to the need for action immediately he arrived in Chester leading to an external review of the safeguarding service and the appointment of new managers.
The council says in its annual report it aims to be the best council in the country.