12 hours ago

North East Lincolnshire Council’s children’s services rated ‘inadequate’

Kids “at risk of harm”

Children’s services at North East Lincolnshire Council has been rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, but the council’s senior leadership has pledged to make improvements.

The service was judged to be good after inspection in 2017, but according to Ofsted the services to children and families have “significantly deteriorated”. The most recent inspection last month identified “widespread weaknesses in assessment, planning and management decision-making, leaving many children at risk of harm”.

Two focused visits in March and October 2019 identified significant weaknesses in practice, resulting in areas for priority action which have not been fully addressed. An Improvement Notice was issued to the council in December 2019 after the publication of Ofsted’s Focused Visit Letter relating to the visit to the region in October 2019.

A virtual focused assurance visit in May 2021 identified how the national lockdowns arising from COVID-19 placed signifiant demands and challenges on children’s services. This slowed the pace of change, but identified some improvements in discrete service areas. Some of these services have since declined, Ofsed said.

It was also noted in the report that the “high turnover of social workers and managers has had a profound impact, resulting in multiple changes for children and families, inconsistency in planning, and drift and delay”. It added that “some children’s cases are closed or stepped down without being fully understood or addressed, leaving children at risk”.

The local authority’s children’s services was inspected again by Ofsted on October 4 and 15, 2021. The report was published by Ofsted on Friday, November 26 and is very critical of the service saying there are “serious and widespread failures across the help and protection service” – read the full report here.

Inspectors referred children back to senior leaders to ensure that remedial action was taken where risk and need had not been identified or addressed. Remedial action was taken immediately where agreed, while a Department for Education appointed Commissioner – a specialist in supporting local authorities to improve – will work with the council.

North East Lincolnshire Council’s leadership said the protection of support and young people is a top priority and will be improved in line with major recommendations – see the full pledge here.

This comes as the services’ director Lisa Arthey announced she is leaving the authority after almost two years – eight months of those as director. The council said it will “now look to continue the work that she has been integral in progressing”.

Leader of the council, Councillor Philip Jackson said: “We recognise and accept Ofsted’s findings. But let me emphasise today that North East Lincolnshire Council is absolutely committed to continuing its journey of improvement and in doing so we will work with all concerned to keep our children safe.

“We have already engaged with regional and local partners, including Lincolnshire County Council and North Lincolnshire Council, to develop a collaborative package of support to assist us with our ongoing improvement focus.”

Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services, Councillor Ian Lindley, said: “We stress again, we are not hiding from the issues that have been identified, nor are we making excuses. However, there is no doubt the pandemic did derail our plans significantly and improvements were and are being made.”

There are 582 children in North East Lincolnshire being looked after by the council. This is the equivalent of 169 children per 10,000 children in the borough, with the England average 67 per 10,000.

The team has dealt with a 57% per cent increase this year and last year in the number of children in need referred to children’s social care services, when compared to the two years previous.

Despite the criticisms in the report, it praised the council for its work to prevent child exploitation, and monthly referrals dropping from 292 in December 2019 to 179 in August this year.

Areas that were listed for improvement included the quality and effectiveness of managerial oversight and supervision, and timeliness of safeguarding checks for children in private fostering and connected carers’ placements.

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