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Sandwell children's services still failing eight years on in damning Ofsted verdict

By Richard Guttridge | Sandwell | News | Published:

Ofsted found some services have deteriorated further since the last damning inspection in 2015 and most recommendations made three years ago 'have not been fully met'.

Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will head up the new Children's Trust aiming to make improvements to Sandwell children's social care services

Widespread and serious failures remain at children's services in Sandwell, an inspection has found, after certain failings were highlighted eight years ago.

Ofsted said some services had deteriorated even further within the department, which was already rated inadequate.

The concerning findings come ahead of the launch of a new independent trust to take over the running of children's services from April 1.

The trust will be headed by former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

It followed the announcement in June 2016 that the council would lose control of services for the borough's children following a six-month review which came after the 'inadequate' Ofsted ranking.

The council had expected that the children's trust would have been up and running by last summer.

The authority and its leaders came in for heavy criticism from Halesowen and Rowley Regis MP James Morris in the House of Commons last week.

He called for council leader Councillor Steve Eling to resign over allegations of abuse of power, fraud and corruption at the authority, and urged the government to send in commissioners.

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Today Mr Morris said the leadership of Sandwell Council 'has completely failed'.

Key points as long-term failings revealed in Sandwell children's services

  • Ofsted found some services have deteriorated further, in particular those for children looked after and adoption
  • 'Widespread and serious failures' found in services for children and families in need of help and protection, children looked after and those requiring permanence through adoption
  • A lack of social workers 'experienced in complex casework' together with significant turnover in staff has led to 'the overall quality of work being poor'
  • Relationships between children and their social workers are 'often fragmented'
  • Most of the recommendations from the Ofsted 2015 inspection have not been fully met and some services have 'declined in effectiveness'.
  • In 2015 Ofsted found 'widespread and serious failures that create or leave children being harmed or at risk of harm'. The council was also told three years ago that 'leaders and managers have not been able to demonstrate sufficient understanding of failures and have been ineffective in prioritising, challenging and making improvements'
  • Two years before that in 2013, Ofsted told the council the 'overall effectiveness' of the arrangements to protect children in Sandwell was 'inadequate'
  • Inspection of safeguarding and looked after children services published in January 2010 found the 'overall effectiveness' of safeguarding services as 'inadequate'

Ms Smith said she was 'under no illusions about the size of the challenge ahead' following the release of the latest report today.

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The report said interventions to protect vulnerable children, some who were at risk of child sexual exploitation, had not been made quickly enough.

However, the education watchdog said the 'trajectory of improvement' had 'quickened' in recent months.

Sandwell Council House

Ms Smith, who served as Home Secretary under then-Prime Minster Gordon Brown, said: "We are under no illusions about the size of the challenge ahead of us as we move towards launching the Sandwell Children’s Trust.

"It remains an exciting and real opportunity to improve the lives of the most vulnerable children and families in Sandwell.

"We are putting a strong and experienced management team in place that I am confident will find new ways to improve and innovate and make the trust a great place to work.

"We have a strong and productive working partnership with Sandwell Council and with the Department for Education and are making good progress in establishing Sandwell Children's Trust.

"However the hard work is just beginning as we launch the trust this Spring and focus on ensuring that it can make a real difference for vulnerable children and families in Sandwell.”

The report said: "Children’s services in Sandwell are inadequate. Since the last inspection, some services have deteriorated, in particular services for children looked after and adoption.

"There are widespread and serious failures in services for children and families in need of help and protection, children looked after and those requiring permanence through adoption.

"Most of the recommendations from the Ofsted 2015 inspection have not been fully met and some services have declined in effectiveness. The pace of change to address service deficits has been too slow.

"Only in recent months, with the appointment of a new senior management team, has the trajectory of improvement quickened. However, the basic elements of good social work practice are not yet in place, for example effective management oversight, a robust response to risk, and timely and thorough assessment and plans."

Sandwell Council children's services boss Councillor Simon Hackett

Sandwell Council children's services boss, Councillor Simon Hackett, said the authority was 'disappointed' in the report's findings but understood there was 'much more work to do'.

"First let me say how disappointed we are in the outcome of this re-inspection however we make no excuses - the service still isn't where it needs to be," he said.

"While it's clear that there is much more work to do, Ofsted also recognised the beginning of change in the service that will make sure Sandwell Children's Trust has the foundations in place to succeed.

Councillor Hackett added: "The trust is the future of children's services in Sandwell. It will give us a fresh start and the opportunity to achieve real change. It cannot succeed without the council's full support which I will make sure it receives

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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