Another day, another damning critique from a government agency of Croydon Council’s inability to manage the services it is supposed to provide.
And yet again, no apology for the failures, nor acceptance of responsibility, from the council’s political leadership or its £200,000 per year chief executive.
The report, published yesterday by the Department for Education and signed off by Ofsted inspector Anne Waterman, follows an inspection of the council’s failing children’s services department last month.
One year on from the department being placed in special measures by Ofsted after it discovered vulnerable children at risk of “significant harm”, and the inspectors still found children left in “neglectful circumstances” for too long.
Croydon’s children’s services’ pace of improvement is not quick enough, according to Waterman.
This is Ofsted’s third update on Croydon’s children’s services provision since it was declared “inadequate” in a report published last September, when inspectors discovered “widespread and serious failures”.
Croydon’s children’s services are now being supervised by a team of specialist social workers brought in from Camden earlier this year, but even that intervention does not seem to be enough to ensure the safety of the borough’s vulnerable children and teenagers.
Croydon Council has not made a copy of the report available on its website, nor has the council CEO, Jo Negrini, or the recently appointed interim head of children’s services, Eleni Ioannides, made any public statement in response to the findings.
The council did issue a statement to media outlets (though did not publish it on its own website; can’t think why…).
“We share Ofsted’s concern that that the workloads of some social workers are still too high,” an unnamed functionary from the council press department tapped out. “We are driving a new recruitment and retention campaign while bringing in extra teams to help reduce caseloads while strengthening management oversight.
“However, Ofsted has recognised our improved use of legal frameworks to safeguard children, together with the evidence of more consistent management oversight. We want to continue to build on these and other positive steps we have taken to date.
“We are refreshing our children’s services improvement plan to tackle priority areas to accelerate the pace of change to offer all our children and young people the high-quality service we want them to have.”
Anyone who actually reads the Ofsted inspection report will find it hard to recognise the sentiments expressed by the council in the inspectors’ remarks.
The report is withering in its criticism.
Progress in improving the service, the report states, “has been too slow and too many children do not receive a service that meets their needs. Senior managers have correctly identified the priority actions that are necessary, but implementation has not been at the pace required to ensure that children’s circumstances improve in a timely way.
“There is inconsistency in the application and understanding of thresholds and this is impacting on the quality of care planning for children.
“Decisions to ‘step up’ are not taken quickly enough when children’s needs change or risks escalate. Many children are left in neglectful circumstances for too long.
“However, in a small number of cases seen by inspectors, increases in risks to children had been swiftly identified and responded to appropriately.” This is what amounts to a crumb of comfort in a report which over four pages paints an otherwise depressingly familiar picture of the council’s pisspoor performance.
There continues to be issues around staffing, and inadequate numbers of social workers, despite the council spending millions of pounds in the past year on a recruitment drive. Waterman’s report refers to “urgent workforce issues”, so that when staff are off sick, on holiday or have left their job, “managers struggle to ensure that children receive a satisfactory service”.
While caseloads for staff remained high, senior managers had taken active steps to reduce them.
Some of the issues identified in the July 2018 visit are very similar to the problems uncovered from the inspection in July 2017. “Management oversight of practice is too variable… quality is inconsistent,” the inspectors say this time around. In the past, Croydon has been found to be using too many inexperienced, often first-job social workers, and has not had sufficient, experienced staff to oversee and help with their casework.
The inspectors also found, “Case transfer processes have been ineffective. This means that children’s plans are not progressed in a timely was and that escalating risks are not always identified.”
The Labour-run council’s political leaders, meanwhile, have been keeping a subterraneanly low profile, perhaps hoping no one would notice.
Alisa Flemming, the cabinet member (£43,339 per year) responsible, has made no public statement about the troubling latest Ofsted report. Flemming failed to respond to Inside Croydon’s invitation to comment.
Council leader Tony Newman, who recently awarded himself an inflation-busting increase in his council allowances, refuses to address the issues raised by Ofsted, and instead chose to deflect and divert by attacking his political opponents because he doesn’t consider that they have been supportive enough.
“Depressing attacks on our hard working staff by Croydon Tories,” Newman tweeted, “whose government have our council budget by 60 per cent, why not recognise the improvements Ofsted acknowledge and support the recruitment and retention drive for our children’s services,” said the man whose Labour administration continued to make cuts in social work staff from 2014 to 2017…
“Ofsted has been very clear in their letter that your administration has not improved fast enough, that standards and processes are not adhered to, and children are still in danger,” Tim Pollard, the leader of Croydon Conservatives, replied to Newman.
“That is what’s depressing, that you can’t see that is deeply troubling.”
And Maria Gatland, the Tories’ spokeswoman on children’s services, said, “Councillor Alisa Flemming is paid to drive forward a desperate need to improve social services. Instead, she has overseen a year where millions have been spent in an attempt to improve the care of vulnerable children in Croydon but hugely concerning failures remain.
“Serious questions need to asked about her abilities and leadership.”
- Damning verdict on Croydon’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services
- Commissioner appointed to oversee children’s services
- Negrini tells staff: ‘There are some things that we don’t do well’
- Two key figures leave council over Ofsted inspectors’ report
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