Failure-hit child protection service in Northamptonshire is improving, inspectors say

Assistant director for safeguarding children's services Satinder Gautum and county council cabinet member for children's services, Councillor Heather Smith, (Con, Oundle) announcing the Ofsted progress report today.
Assistant director for safeguarding children's services Satinder Gautum and county council cabinet member for children's services, Councillor Heather Smith, (Con, Oundle) announcing the Ofsted progress report today.

‘Notable improvements’ have been made to child protection services in Northamptonshire since its damming 2013 assessment - a new report has revealed.

Ofsted labelled the county council-run service ‘inadequate’ two years ago - describing “systematic weaknesses and inconsistent and ineffective practices” in the way the authority helped vulnerable children.

But today the Government watchdog said Northamptonshire County Council was making ‘satisfactory’ progress in improving it, following an assessment in December.

The inspection team said the council has improved the way it manages referrals and identifies those at risk of abuse.

County council deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, Councillor Heather Smith, (Con, Oundle) said: “We have worked very hard to begin addressing the issues identified in our previous Ofsted inspection and I’m glad to see that the inspection team has recognised our commitment to improve child protection services.

“Now we need to move forward and focus on continuing to improve the help, support and intervention we provide to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children in Northamptonshire.”

The report praised the authority’s new Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), set up in the wake of the 2013 report, which now acts as a single-point of assessment for children in need.

Social worker caseloads have been reduced, with 71 per cent of staff now managing no more than 20 cases, compared with 65 per cent a year ago.

The council was praised for its efforts to build a ‘stable and able’ workforce by recruiting newly-qualified social workers through its social work academy.

The previous Ofsted inspection criticised the council for using too many agency staff members. However now the number of permanent social workers and senior practitioners has increased form 49 to 330.

A recruitment drive of 30 qualified social workers from India is underway, who are likely to start in March.

However inspectors found some areas for improvement such as ensuring all children in need have plans which are regularly reviewed.

The council was directed to improve the way it recognises children at risk of sexual exploitation and those at risk of going missing from home, care or school.

However Councillor Smith said almost all of the management in charge of child protection services at the time of the 2013 Ofsted report have now been axed.

“In a way the inadequate rating was a huge favour,” she said. “There is no way the service could have got blown apart the way it has otherwise.

“This was a seismic thing to happen and the only thing we could do was to bring the organisation up from the ground.”