Concerns as children in care wait years for new homes in Sandwell
Children in Sandwell Council’s care are left waiting years for new homes because of delays in vital decision making – inspectors have warned.
And the delays are adding to the record number for youngsters being cared for in the borough.
The failings have been highlighted in Ofsted’s latest monitoring report into Sandwell Children’s Trust, an agency set up 14 months ago after the council’s service was labelled inadequate
In the last two years the number of looked after youngsters in the borough have risen nearly 300 to an unprecedented 901 by April this year.
Inspectors said delays in the past have led to some children not being brought into care, while others who could be discharged earlier remain in the system.
The trust has revealed more than 400 children have been looked after for two years or more.
An Ofsted inspector said: "The trust has analysed this large number and attributes it to delays in some children exiting care. The rise has also been attributed to the trust having to quickly escalate cases which had drifted due to a legacy of poor practice. This was done shortly after the trust’s inception.
"Some children are remaining in care for too long, with alternative plans to secure their future not being pursued in a timely way. Senior leaders and managers are aware of this and are working to address delays.
"They are in the process of identifying a number of children who can be safely discharged from care, through special guardianship for example, but many continue to experience drift and delay in securing permanence."
And inspectors warn children have been left waiting for long periods for decisions which could give them a new home.
"There remains continued drift and delay in current cases even where there has been recent management oversight. For example, many children have not had the benefit of an updated single assessment, in some cases for several years, to inform a current plan.
"These children are now being identified, but there remains a considerable amount of work to do to ensure that all actions are progressed quickly.”
But Ofsted did point out progress in the service, noting the introduction of a court team was slowing the number of admissions while the trust had recruited more permanent staff to handle cases.
The spiralling numbers in care have caused massive financial pressures on the service which went into the red by £3.5 million this year.
The Right Honourable Jacqui Smith, chairman of Sandwell’s Children’s Trust, said: “There are some real positives from Ofsted’s recent feedback and we are achieving all our main aims as set out in our improvement plan.
“We have seen an increase in the number of children in care and we are not alone in this – nationally there has been a large rise. We are doing what we can to reduce this and our teams are working hard to seek safe and permanent alternatives for children who face going into care.
“We have a permanent senior leadership team who have clearly impressed Ofsted inspectors with their understanding of the task in hand.
“What we need to do now is focus on consistency. We want to get it right and avoid any delays in processes to make sure these vulnerable children are given a safe upbringing and the best chance in life to thrive.”
Frances Craven, chief executive, at Sandwell Children’s Trust, said: “Our new dedicated court team are working to see if there are alternatives to care such as special guardianship. They are also speeding up the process of children exiting care who are either returning to their families if circumstances have changed or to a more permanent home.
“I am really pleased we are recruiting and retaining staff and we now have almost 70 per cent of our staff in permanent roles. It’s also very heartening to hear our staff feel supported in their roles and spoke positively about the trust to inspectors.”