STEVEN DOWNES on a critical report by Ofsted on the council’s failures to provide proper education and support to some of the borough’s most vulnerable children and their families
Croydon Council’s provision for some of the borough’s most vulnerable children has “widespread and serious failures”, which “leave some children at risk of significant harm”, according to a damning report published this morning by government inspectors at Ofsted.
The report, which looked at a range of social services and the council’s education provision for children being fostered or in care, has found them all to be “inadequate”.
This report follows closely the criticisms of the Local Government Ombudsman, who in July found in one case that a grandmother and her autistic grandson had been abandoned by the children’s services department. The grandmother was left close to suicide by her family’s plight. The Ombudsman there fined the council thousands of pounds after finding “a catalogue of unacceptable failings by London Borough of Croydon, which has left a family stretched to breaking point”.
Ofsted inspectors were in Croydon between June 20 and July 13.
Today’s report says, “Inspectors identified a legacy of poor practice characterised by drift and delay in the provision of key services.
“Weak managerial oversight at all levels has not ensured that basic social work practice is of a good enough standard. Children do not receive robust and timely responses to ensure that risk is reduced and their needs are met.”
The Ofsted report’s sumary continues: “The local authority was required to take immediate action in a small number of cases identified by inspectors during the inspection.”
The previous Ofsted inspection of children’s services in Croydon was in 2012. The council has been under Labour control since 2014, with Tony Newman as leader of the council and, since 2016, Jo Negrini as the council’s £185,000 per year chief executive.
Ofsted say that “there has been significant deterioration in the quality of service provision”, since their last visit.
“Poor managerial oversight of cases fails to ensure that basic social work practice is of a good enough standard. This means that not all children receive help in a robust and timely manner.”
This reflects previous reports by Inside Croydon, in which some parents have been lobbying the council for more than three years to get the educational assessment reports to which their teenaged children with special needs are entitled under law. Inside Croydon has also found that at least one-third of the SEND budget has been spend on lawyers to represent the council at tribunals to avoid providing the educational support required by local families.
Newman has never responded to our reports. Asked for a comment on today’s Ofsted report, Newman had not responded by the time of publication.
Ofsted today found that, “The workloads of social workers in some teams are high and this presents a serious barrier to providing effective services for children. The turnover of staff in many teams, coupled with the many transition points, further inhibits the building of trusting relationships between social workers and children.”
Croydon, with the Home Office’s Lunar House in the town centre handling thousands of new arrivals to Britain, has particular problems in terms of caring for an unusually high number of children who arrive in the borough unaccompanied by adults.
There have been repeated cases of some of these unaccompanied minors going missing when they have been in council care.
“Effectively supporting such a high number of unaccompanied asylum-seekers is a formidable challenge that has been a priority,” the Ofsted inspectors say. “However, this prioritisation is not having the same impact on the rest of the frontline services.”
Ofsted reports some additional appointments at senior manager level and
“evidence of some recent improvements”.
However, Ofsted also said today, “When children are missing or are at risk of sexual exploitation, poor recognition and response to these concerns is not reducing risk to them effectively.
“Too few children looked after who go missing are spoken to when they return, therefore the understanding of associated risks is weak.
“While strategic partnership understanding has improved, the response to children who are at risk from sexual exploitation is underdeveloped.
“When circumstances for some children do not improve, the local authority is either too slow to take action or reduces the level of support without evidence of demonstrable progress. This means that some children remain in harmful situations for too long.
“Too many children wait too long for a decision to be made as to whether they need to be looked after, or they return home without sufficient support. This has left them at risk of significant harm from neglectful parenting. The pre-proceedings phase of the Public Law Outline (PLO) is not used often enough or early enough to ensure that parents are aware of the potentially serious consequences of poor or harmful parenting.”
Negrini today issued an internal memo to staff and councillors which said that, “It is clear that services for children have not been good enough for a very long time and this is unacceptable.”
Which as an admission of failure is a start, though it does raise questions of why, if Negrini has been aware of such failings – at least since July 2016, according to the Ofsted inspectors – nothing effective appears to have been done to remedy the situation.
Indeed, Ofsted reports that, “The local authority is at a very early stage in addressing the poor practice identified…” Which suggests that little has been done in the past 15 months to correct short-comings of which Negrini and her council were well aware.
“…Action plans to address deficits are focused on process or structure and there is insufficient consideration of improving outcomes for children. This has created delay in addressing and targeting the areas of greatest concern.
“Most children looked after live in stable foster placements where they are cared for well. However, many carers feel poorly supported and the fostering service is not compliant with all regulations. There is good consideration of most children’s diverse needs in placement matches. In the majority of cases, social workers see children regularly, although evidence of purposeful direct work is more limited.”
There should be some repercussions of today’s report; the decline in the service coincides with the drastic cuts in council funding provided under austerity measures by the Tory-led government.
Even that, though, does not satisfactorily explain the inadequacies highlighted by Ofsted, at a council which has been enthusiastically pursuing wide-ranging staff cuts for the past six years. These redundancies, implemented under Labour council leadership as well as under the Conservatives, have clearly seen too many experienced Town Hall staff leave their posts in several departments.
As Ofsted says, “The local authority overall has not prioritised and planned sufficiently to improve outcomes for enough children.”
In her internal memo today, seen by Inside Croydon, Negrini said, “I want to reassure you that our priority is to make sure children and young people in Croydon are safe and properly cared for.” According to Negrini, “our action plan for improvement” will be presented to the council’s cabinet meeting on September 18.
Like Newman, Negrini failed to respond to questions from Inside Croydon arising from today’s Ofsted report.
Notably, in a statement issued from the council’s press office this morning, neither Negrini nor Newman featured to accept any responsibility for such serious failings highlighted in the Ofsted report, nor to take any of the flak.
Amid all the platitudes about the council’s “priorities”, Barbara Peacock, Croydon’s relatively new “executive director people” did at least do the decent thing and issue what appeared to be an apology.
“We accept the findings of this report and are committed to making sure that we provide better support for our children and young people,” Peacock said.
“I’m sorry that our services have not been good enough.
“We identified the need for improvements last year but despite working extremely hard to make these necessary changes, they have not delivered the impact we wanted.” Which again raises questions about the effectiveness of such “necessary changes”.
Peacock said, “The report has shown the extent of work that is needed. Much of this work is already under way but we recognise there is a lot more to do and we are working with Ofsted to create an improvement plan to drive through those changes.
“So that we and residents can feel reassured about the safety of all the young people we are involved with we are reviewing cases and are taking immediate action where we do find issues to address.”
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