SOCIAL workers are good at identifying children in Cambridgeshire who are at risk of harm – but their record-keeping is so poor that not all children are effectively protected, according to a report by the education watchdog Ofsted.
A team of six of Her Majesty’s Inspectors and a seventh member seconded from a local authority that made an unannounced inspection of Cambridgeshire County Council’s arrangements for the protection of children found their overall effectiveness was inadequate.
Also inadequate were the effectiveness of the help and protection provided to children, young people, families and carers, and the quality of practice. Yet the team found leadership and governance adequate.
The inspectors report suggests that the team was quite impressed by social workers’ ability to identify children who might be at risk and by the political and senior managerial commitment to identifying and protecting them.
They pointed to a council audit of 81 cases involving 164 children after serious weaknesses were disclosed in the north of the county.
“This revealed significant failures to take appropriate action to ensure the safety of 29 children and young people,” Ofsted said. “For these children the council had concluded that the initial response had been inadequate, leading to a concern that the council could not reasonably be assured that some children were safe.”
They added that a further nine closed closes had had to be re-opened.
The problem, they concluded lay in poor record-keeping, such as notes of strategy meetings not routinely filed, the outcome of statutory enquiries going unrecorded, and child protection plans that were so long and complex that key actions were not tracked or monitored.
Consistency of management oversight had been identified in an earlier inspection in 2009 as being in need of improvement, and the variable quality of recoding was pointed out in another unannounced inspection in 2011.
“The council has recognised that its current social work case recording system is not an intuitive tool and sometimes hampers effective social work practice and recording,” the report says, though it acknowledges that CCC is currently retendering the contract for the system.
It adds that child protection procedures were not always complied with: “As a result some vulnerable children are receiving ineffective help, and some children known to the council are not being effectively protected.”
It also says: “Child protection plans have too many actions, which can reduce the focus on the identified risks and make plans difficult to monitor effectively.”
Yet much of the report, which does not cover children after they have been taken into local authority, is very positive about social workers’ effectiveness and commitment at political and chief executive level.
A council spokesman said work had already started to address the weaknesses, and many of the issues raised were already being tackled before the inspectors arrived.
“We know the children are safe,” he insisted. “But we know our recording can’t prove it.”
Cllr David Brown, Cambridgeshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services said: “The findings reflect why we are in the process of making fundamental changes to how children’s social care is delivered. Practice and recording have been too inconsistent and this will be improved by the new ways of working that are being introduced.
“The inspectors reported that they could see the positive difference that these changes are already making.”
He told The Hunts Post ahead of a meeting with Department for Education officials today (Wednesday): “There’s a clear determination to get it right. [The shortcomings identified by Ofsted] will not happen in the future,” he promised.