Ofsted descends on Northamptonshire's children's services

Ofsted will be inspecting Northamptonshire for the next three weeks.
Ofsted will be inspecting Northamptonshire for the next three weeks.

A full Ofsted inspection is taking place at Northamptonshire County Council’s understaffed children’s services department.

The inspection, which started on Monday (June 17) comes in the wake of two serious case reviews published earlier this month into the deaths of two Northamptonshire children who were brutally murdered by the violent drug dealers they were living with.

The reviews found failings in the service and that opportunities to better protect both children had been missed. Local health services and police were also found wanting.

The department has been struggling for a number of years and is in the middle of a recruitment crisis, unable to find permanent social worker staff, which means a number of children are without an allocated social worker.

It is also under the guidance of Children’s Commissioner Malcolm Newsam who was sent in to the council in November by the Government following a damning Ofsted focused inspection last summer.

That inspection found social workers were ‘drowning in cases’ and that department that took calls from people worried about a child’s welfare was not processing referrals properly.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “Last week we received notification from Ofsted that they will be undertaking a full standard inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services. It will assess services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers.

“The inspection is taking place over three weeks. Last week the inspectors were offsite reviewing data and gathering evidence in readiness for the fieldwork that is taking place this week and next. The inspectors arrived on site on June 17th and will be working across the county.

“The report is currently scheduled to be published in late July.”

The department, which is now being led by children’s services director Sally Hodges, was rated as inadequate in 2013 and after an improvement board was set up, it stepped up to ‘requires improvement’ in 2016. However, the focused visit last summer found that the quality of service had once again dropped.

Chair of the Northamptonshire Children Safeguarding Board Keith Makin said he thought it was a mistake to close down the improvement board in 2016.

Former Northampton MP Sally Keeble has welcomed this week’s inspection.

She said: “Everybody knows that there are problems within the service and I welcome anything that happens that will lead to improvements.

“There needs to be a real step change in the level of scrutiny of Northamptonshire Children’s services as there is not the indication as yet that there is an understanding of how serious the situation is.”