Herts County Council is failing children at risk
SERIOUS defects in the way Herts County Council deals with children at risk have been shown up in a report by the national inspection service Ofsted. It made an unannounced inspection of the county council s arrangements for contact, referral and assessme
SERIOUS defects in the way Herts County Council deals with children at risk have been shown up in a report by the national inspection service Ofsted.
It made an unannounced inspection of the county council's arrangements for contact, referral and assessment of children at risk in early October following the death of Baby P in Haringey.
And while it found five areas that it classified as strengths in the county council's system, seven required improvements and two required immediate action.
One was the management of risk assessments in the contact centre which was described as not sufficiently robust with some contacts closed by professional assistants rather than managers.
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The other involved the number of cases which were long overdue for assessment with examples dating back to March this year. Ofsted accepts that the county council was aware of those cases which had resulted from severe staff shortages earlier this year but is concerned about the potential that children and young people will not be safeguarded effectively or receive the services they need.
Areas requiring improvement included the high number of referrals and shortages of skilled staff, the large number of domestic violence incidents reported by the police which lack sufficient detail to make a priority judgement, the shortage of qualified social workers and the reliance on agency staff and agency managers to cover vacant posts and the resulting rapid turnover of staff.
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Strengths were identified as including the effective implementation of an integrated children's system and timely and effective communication between assessment teams and the emergency duty team.
The report has come under fire from the opposition Lib-Dem group on the county council which said it had criticised the authority in the past for allowing assistants to handle calls and sign off reported cases of abuse rather than trained social work managers.
Group leader, Cllr Chris White, said: "The county announced this report in very glowing terms, only briefly mentioning the serious defects in the system and praising the areas that had been highlighted as meeting basic standards.
"It did not mention that of the 14 bullet points, nearly two thirds were areas they have to improve on to keep our children safe."
Jane Pitman, executive member for children's services, said: "We are pleased that Ofsted has highlight our strengths which reflect the hard work of our staff in raising the standards of social care in the past two years. However, we also recognise that there is room for further improvement."
John Harris, director of children, schools and families, added: "The issues highlighted by Ofsted have arisen due to severe staff shortages earlier in the year combined with an increase in volume of referrals.
"Ofsted recognised that we had already identified and made efforts to address these concerns.