‘Council failings are putting children at risk of harm’

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A shocking report has revealed that vulnerable children are being put at risk due to failings in Wakefield Council’s services.

Education watchdog Ofsted said some youngsters were not being appropriately safeguarded as a result of “significant” weaknesses in children’s services in the district.

It said there were delays in allocating cases, seeing and assessing children at risk of harm and taking appropriate action to protect them.

READ: Council response says children are not being put at risk
A letter to the authority, written by Ofsted said: “Most child protection visits were not being completed within the timescales agreed to safeguard children.”

The watchdog said there were “significant capacity issues”.

At the time of the inspection, there was not a permanent director of children’s services in place, after the previous director John Wilson had left in November.

And the service director for safeguarding and family support post had been vacant since April 2017, with another manager covering the duties.

There were gaps in management and staffing and social workers told inspectors they were “under a lot of pressure” with high caseloads. The letter released to The Express earlier this week, said: “Social work teams have insufficient capacity to meet the needs of children and families.”

Recording of social work was deemed to be “poor” in some cases. Inspectors noted that planning documents and records of visits were missing, making it difficult for the council to understand risks to the child and what actions had been taken.

The inspectors also criticised management and decision-making. They said the authority and partner agencies did not agree on when referrals made to children’s services required social work intervention and when cases should be closed.

Inspectors highlighted an audit carried out in January this year, which identified that around 10 per cent of referrals had been “closed inappropriately without further work being undertaken, including ensuring that children were safe”.

They also looked at unallocated cases, claiming in many, there was “no evidence of risk being identified, managed or reviewed”.

The report stated: “This lack of oversight and poor management through the duty systems is leaving children at risk of harm.”

Coun Nadeem Ahmed, leader of the Wakefield Conservatives, said the letter was “really, really serious”. He said: “It’s beyond anything that I’ve read before.”

He said “serious questions” needed to be asked about management, adding: “The key concern for me is what happened, how it has come to this point and what the council is going to do to address it. Someone has to be accountable.”

Children’s services in the district were last inspected by Ofsted in 2016 - and at that point were deemed to ‘require improvement’.

During the latest visit, in February, inspectors said politicians, the chief executive of the council and senior managers were “well aware of the issues” and had plans in place to address concerns.

But they warned: “There was insufficient capacity at all levels of the service, and the issues of poor practice were so widespread, that it will be a significant challenge for these plans to result in children being sufficiently safeguarded in the immediate future.”

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said: “Councils have a duty to keep every child safe. This has obviously been made much more difficult by huge cuts to social care budgets and to the Surestart programme.”

“However, I am sure that councillors and officials will want to work together on this report to make sure that Wakefield’s most vulnerable children are getting the protection and the services that they need and deserve.”