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Children’s services in Havering branded ‘inadequate’ in scathing report

Havering Town Hall

Havering Council says it is making improvements to its children services after they were branded “inadequate” by Ofsted.

(Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Sebastian Mann)

The commitment comes after government inspectors published a scathing report in February that found children in the east London borough were being exposed to harm or remaining at risk of harm for “far too long”.

Criticism of the borough’s children services was centred on “poor management oversight” and a “weak reviewing service,” with the majority of social workers in the borough taking on “complex and high” caseloads.

Claire Beckingham, the lead inspector, wrote in her report that these issues had led to “widespread drift and delay” for “too many children”.

Though the council will look to implement the necessary improvements, including the “quality and consistency” of its supervision and planning, she acknowledged it was within a “challenging context” of increasing demand, linked to “marked growth” in the borough’s child population.

Between 11th and 22nd December, Ofsted went in to assess the council’s services on four fronts: the experiences and progress of children in care, of children who need help and protection, of people leaving care, and how leaders impact social work with families and children.

They were deemed “inadequate” in all areas except for how care leavers progress, which “requires improvement”.

This has meant that “too many” children in care have a poor experience, and many are returned to their parents without adequate risk assessments.

Other children do not come into care soon enough, Ofsted found. They continue to experience harm in their homes and may end up entering care in an emergency, which can be an “unsettling experience”.

On top of these issues, the quality of care planning and reviews was “poor,” records were often sparse and “difficult to follow,” and social workers assigned to children “changed too many times”.

However, Ofsted inspectors found that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children received regular visits and they had been able to build trusting relationships with social workers, which many others had struggled doing.

Now rated inadequate overall, Havering’s children services were previously rated “good” during an inspection in 2018.

The inspector added: “Services have been deteriorating over several years and only recently has action begun to address this.”

Additionally, “substantial resources” would be needed to deliver core services, she said, while advising the council  that further corporate and political investment was needed.

An improvement plan has since been adopted by Havering Council, which will see a further £17million invested into the service.

Officials will also develop a dedicated staff training programme, improve quality assurance across all services, and carry out a review of the service’s structure with a view to improving staff capacity.

Oscar Ford, the authority’s cabinet member for children and young people, said officials had accepted the contents of the report and that he was sorry “some of our children and young people have had to wait too long for support”.

However,  he said a “number of factors” had led to this situation.

They include the “unprecedented” increase in Havering’s child population, which has the fourth fastest growing zero to 14-year-old population in the country.

There has also been a “significant” increase in the number of children with special educational needs.

He added: “This has led to a significant rise in demand for our services with no increase in government funding. This is coupled with a chronic shortage of social workers nationally and difficulties attracting new staff locally.”

Though it was largely critical, the report did offer some praise for the council’s services.

Its multi-agency safeguarding hub was described as “responsive and effective”.

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