Just two years ago, Cheshire West and Chester Council was red flagged by Ofsted for inadequate child protection procedures, inherited under local government reorganisation. A snap reinspection has now revealed a different picture. David Norbury reports
NOVEMBER 9 had been red ringed in Cheshire West and Chester diaries since Ofsted inspectors launched a 10-day probe into its safeguarding, with other organisations, of the most vulnerable youngsters in the borough.
The report due that day would throw the spotlight on what had – or had not – been achieved since a finding in November 2010 that the system was ‘inadequate’, realising council leader Mike Jones’s worst fears.
Just a few months into the new council he had picked up concerns the authority had inherited problems from the local government reorganisation in 2008 which had led to the loss of experienced staff.
The Ofsted finding led to decisive steps by the council to turn the situation around.
The outcome is said to have been described by Ofsted as one of the quickest ‘turnarounds’ in child protection performance it has seen.
The rigorous no notice inspection probed deeply into the council’s arrangements for the protection of children.
The watchdog closely scrutinised almost 100 of the most acute child care cases on the council’s books and did not find any instances of faulty practice.
Ofsted reversed its ‘inadequate’ ruling and said the council was now meeting the minimum standard.
In their report inspectors judged that ‘an effective child protection service is in place to ensure the most vulnerable children who need protection are safeguarded’.
The borough’s strategic director of children and young people’s services Gerald Meehan, who is shared with Halton said:“It was a tremendous team effort backed by all-party political support and we can celebrate the conclusion that children and young people in West Cheshire are safe and protected.”
His political chief, Cllr Mark Stocks, (Con) added:“That is a first-class achievement and a wonderful tribute to the dedication and commitment of staff and management.
“It is worth remembering that in 2010 inspectors concluded the large majority of our services to children were either ‘good or better’.
“We pledged then to ensure that those affecting children at risk would reflect that rating.”
New chief executive Steve Robinson acted immediately on Ofsted’s 2010 ruling by ordering an examination by external experts
The following month the council announced the formation of an independent improvement board to monitor its response to Ofsted’s criticism.
In August the following year, a new children and young people’s service was announced.
Cllr Pat Merrick, Labour spokesperson, reveals:“Ofsted’s judgement is a big step forward and I know the good work will not stop here.“
Audrey Williamson, independent chair of the local safeguarding children board, said:“I am delighted to see the improvements , especially as families said that they benefited from the support provided.
“We know we need to build up our early support services across the partnership of agencies who work with children to make services easier to access and more effective.
“But we are confident we can do this now our social care services have been given a clean bill of health.”
Ofsted inspectors found:
An effective child protection system is in place to ensure the most vulnerable children who need protection are safeguarded.
There has been a ‘significant’ improvement in child protection social work practice and in joint child protection work with other organisations.
Having made significant strides since the last safeguarding inspection, when services were judged inadequate, the local authority has been effectively managing a legacy of weak children’s social care management and poor social work decision making which has resulted in some children been left too long in abusive family situations.
Swift action has been taken to tackle these issues.
A Department for Education improvement plan agreed following the last inspection has been implemented successfully.
Child protection referrals are timely and the quality of referrals is generally good. Multi-agency work, and particularly the initial joint work of the police and children’s social care, to investigate child protection concerns leads to decisive action.
In all cases seen action to ensure the most vulnerable children who need protection was robust.
The local authority has created the right environment to drive improvement through the clear vision and leadership of the strategic director of children and young people’s services who has been in post since February 2011.
A competent, credible senior management team is in place to support the implementation of this vision.