Ofsted to inspect children's services in St Helens next week

Ofsted will begin its inspection of childrens services in St Helens next week.
Ofsted will begin its inspection of childrens services in St Helens next week.

Ofsted will begin its long-anticipated inspection of children’s services in St Helens next week.

A two-week inspection, which will review all aspects of children’s social care services, has been expected since the turn of the year.

St Helens Council was informed about the inspection by Ofsted on Monday, with staff and councillors notified later in the day.

It is understood officers will be providing requested information to inspectors prior to them coming on-site next week.

A St Helens Council spokesman said: “We can confirm that Ofsted has notified the council of its intention to conduct an inspection of our children’s social care services.

“The inspection will commence on Monday, September 23 and will last for two weeks, concluding on Friday, October 4.

“An inspection of our children’s services by Ofsted had been expected for some time.

“It is our understanding, from Ofsted, that they will publish the report on their findings on Monday, November 4.”

The full inspection comes around a year after Ofsted issued a damning verdict of children’s services in St Helens following a focused visit in July 2018.

Ofsted said areas of “significant weakness” were identified during the visit, which looked at aspects of children’s services.

The watchdog said this was placing children at risk of “inadequate protection and significant harm”.

The visit also confirmed that “entrenched cultural, management and social work practices” were negatively impacting on children’s outcomes.

Subsequently, Ofsted issued three out of a possible four priority actions and ordered a comprehensive action plan be developed and implemented.

A second focused visit, looking at the ‘front door’ element of children’s services, took place in November 2018.

Following the visit, Ofsted praised the council for taking “swift action” in response to its previous inspection and did not issue any priority actions.

In response to Ofsted’s findings, council chiefs approved a series of investments.

This includes an additional £5.5 million per year to provide better support to foster families and a greater recruitment of foster placements, an increase social workers to keep caseloads manageable and improved care leaver support.

Last month, the councillor overseeing all of the changes within the department stepped down.

The official reason for Coun Joe Pearson’s departure is that he left for personal reasons, although a Labour source claimed he was asked to step down.

While the council’s leadership are assured progress is being made within children’s services, it is understood it was felt a fresh pair of eyes was needed.

Following Coun Pearson’s departure, Thatto Heath councillor Nova Charlton was named as the new cabinet member for protecting young people.

Coun Charlton is the fourth councillor in four years tasked with overseeing the borough’s children’s services.