It has taken two and a half years, and an extra £25million spent on recruiting staff and providing new equipment, but Croydon Council’s children’s services department has finally been rated as “Good” by Ofsted following its latest inspection.
The borough’s services for some of the most vulnerable youngsters were rated as “Inadequate” after the previous inspection, in June and July 2017, with some children and teens in the council’s care reported to be at serious risk. There were four recorded instances of children in Croydon’s care losing their lives as a result of social services failing to keep track of their whereabouts or activities.
The executive director in charge of the children’s services department, Barbara Peacock, left her job soon after the highly critical Ofsted report, as did a couple of middle management council officials. Jo Negrini, the council chief exec, kept her job, though (she had appointed Peacock), and none of the borough’s politicians with responsibility for children’s services, such as Labour cabinet member Alisa Flemming or council leader Tony Newman, felt it proper that they should resign over the scandal.
Many of the difficulties encountered by social workers in the children’s services department had developed over the previous decade, when cut-backs – carried out under a Conservative administration and continued under the Labour-run council – saw staff numbers reduced to an all-time low and social workers trying to cope with casework volumes more than three times what would usually be expected.
Since September 2017, with the department supervised by a Whitehall-appointed inspector and with social workers parachuted in from another London borough to oversee its work, there has been a stream of update inspections which have indicated a steady, if slow, improvement.
Rob Henderson, who was appointed in September 2018 as the council’s executive director for children, families and learning, was quoted by the Town Hall press office this morning as saying, “Ofsted recognised our staff’s passion and commitment to helping children and families – they are our greatest asset. There are areas where we still need sustained improvement and we will have a strong focus on these in the coming months.”
Under-pressure council leader Newman, for his part, had this to say: “Getting to ‘good’ is a real achievement but our journey does not end here – there is much more to be done, and we are determined to keep getting better, until all our children and families are getting the best.”
The Ofsted inspectors, who conducted their visit last month, said that they found the service “dramatically improved” and “transformed” since 2017. They reported that “services for children in need of help and protection are now good, and services for children in care and care leavers are improving well”.
The report states: “Services for children and their families have been transformed as a result of strong corporate and political support, substantial investment and the appointment of highly experienced senior managers.
“The current executive director for children, families and education [Henderson] and the director of early help and children’s social care [Nick Pendry] were appointed towards the end of 2018. Building on the changes that had already been made, they quickly grasped the full extent of the improvements that were required, and they have systematically and effectively tackled the weaknesses.
“Services for children in need of help and protection are now good, and services for children in care and care leavers are improving well. Senior managers have ensured that they are well-informed about the quality of services through performance management information and directly engaging with frontline staff. They are fully aware of the areas that still require improvement and demonstrate a relentless determination to deliver high-quality services to all children in Croydon.
“They have created an environment in which staff feel valued and enjoy working in the borough.”
Tara Geere, the government inspector who led the visit, found that “the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers” still requires improvement.
Her report lists four areas which also need improvement:
◼The quality of written plans for children in need, children in care and care leavers.
◼Services provided to homeless 16-and 17-year-olds.
◼Services for care leavers, particularly the range of suitable accommodation, responses to emotional health needs and preparation for independence.
◼Placement sufficiency for children in care and accommodation for care leavers.
Croydon is home to 94,000 children under-18 and the council looks after around 800 children in care – more than anywhere else in London, including around 300 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC), brought to the borough because of the Home Office’s Lunar House immigration gateway office. Croydon looks 10 per cent of the total number of UASC in the country.
Croydon Council is now spending £10million per year more on children’s services than it was in 2017 and has increased the number of social care staff by around 40 per cent.
- Click here for the February 2020 Ofsted inspectors’ report
- Click here for the Ofsted inspection report from June-July 2017
- Damning verdict on Croydon’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services
- Croydon’s leadership may be resigned to changes at the top
- 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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