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Are Local Authority Children's Services meeting the needs of families and their children?

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Ofsted released their first Social Care Annual Report for 2012/13 on the 15th October 2013 which identified that 1 in 7 Local Authorities has been reported to be ‘inadequate’ and some child safeguarding services are struggling to meet even basic standards of practice. Ofsted inspects children’s social care including child protection services and it said that more is needed to be done to address “incompetent and ineffective” leadership within children’s services. The report found that only 4 in 10 local authorities in England have been judged good or better at safeguarding vulnerable children; 20 are currently rated as inadequate, 17 of which were inspected in the past year.

Ofsted said “In the weakest places, the most basic acceptable practice is not in evidence”. In those places, the views of children and families were rarely considered, support from key statutory partners poorly coordinated and, in some, managers did not have a firm understanding of what constituted good practice.

The Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said in response to this report “Nothing councils do is more important than protecting children and the responsibility on local authorities to continually make sure children are becoming safer is one which every council takes incredibly seriously.” The heinous crimes of neglect and abuse have brought sharply into focus the need for vigilance. As a result there are tens of thousands more children on the radar of social services than there were seven years ago. It is important to clarify that whilst the Councils have a key role to play in looking after children; it is not a job which they can do alone. It is everyone’s responsibility to keep children safe from harm; parents, extended family members, health visitors, school teachers, social workers, police, even close neighbours. In the case of R v Amanda Hutton and Tariq Khan [2013] Amanda Hutton was an alcoholic mother of eight and was convicted of the manslaughter of her son Hamzah Khan, who died in December 2009 due to severe malnutrition. His remains were found in squalid conditions at their Bradford family home 21 months later. The judge said Amanda Hutton posed a “real danger” to children. This was a family at ‘risk’ who were clearly in need of support, moral guidance and most importantly decisive action. Before tragedy strikes, we must all take the initiative and talk to these families and take proactive steps.

The aim moving forward following the release of the Ofsted Annual Report is to create a culture of moral responsibility in which people know how to raise the alarm and feel confident that if they come forward with legitimate concerns those concerns will be dealt with effectively and without prejudice. From November 2013 Ofsted will inspect services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers; and these inspections will include local authority adoption agencies and fostering services. These inspections focus on the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, including early help the experiences and progress of  looked after children, including adoption; fostering; the use of residential care; children who return home; and their achieving permanence.

It may be that to succeed, the strategy must therefore go beyond Local Authorities. Many childcare issues seem to be deep-rooted in poverty and take place within families in ‘need’. It seems the understanding that a living income is essential for good childcare has somewhat been lost over the years and Independent Government bodies such as Ofsted have re-established through the publication of their recent report the need to address this.

If social services are involved with your family and your child or children are allocated a social worker then you may wish to seek legal advice. You can contact a member of our Care Department on 0116 255 4855.

Note: Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. They report directly to Parliament and are independent and impartial. It is their duty to inspect and regulate services which care for children and young people.