Report reveals surge in demand for children’s social services in St Helens

Ofsted delivered a scathing indictment of childrens services last August following a focused visit
Ofsted delivered a scathing indictment of childrens services last August following a focused visit

Demand for children’s social services in St Helens has surged since last year’s damning Ofsted findings, a new report has revealed.

The watchdog delivered a scathing indictment of children’s services last August following a focused visit.

As result, Ofsted issued St Helens Council three out of a possible four priority actions and ordered the local authority to produce an action plan to help drive home the changes.

A Children’s Improvement Board (CIB) with an independent chairman was also established.

Following this, members of the council’s children and young people’s services scrutiny panel conducted a review into the impact of the improvements.

The report reveals there has been a “significant increase” in activity since Ofsted published its findings, including the number of referrals it has received.

“It is usual that an authority who receives an inadequate judgement then sees a surge in demand following publication of the Ofsted report,” the report says.

“This is made up of increased referrals and addressing issues in cases as a more forensic approach is brought to considering actions that may be needed.

“St Helens is no different to other authorities and has seen increases in demand.

“Moving forward we need to be assured that the council can meet these demands and the needs of the young people.”

The council has seen a rise in the number of section 47 enquiries, which are triggered when there are reasonable grounds to suspect a child is at risk of harm.

There has also been a growth in the number of children subject to a child protection plan and a rise in the number of children taken into the care of the local authority.

According to the council’s recent revenue outturn report, the number of looked-after children increased from 442 to 472 during 2018-19.

However, it is understood around 500 children are now under the care of St Helens Council.

As part of the review into Ofsted’s findings, councillors heard evidence from a range of internal stakeholders, alongside families and young people.

Helen Sharratt, children and young people’s consultation and review officer for St Helens Council, spoke to the task group about the voice of the child and how it is heard in St Helens.

“Since the Ofsted inspection recording the voice of the child has become an important process,” the report says.

“Helen told us that the culture of how the council listens to young people has changed and that it is key on everyone’s agenda.”

The report says it has been “evident” from listening to officers that the department understands the need for change in practices, policies and procedures and culture.

Following the review, the scrutiny group has made six recommendations, which will need to the endorsed by the council’s cabinet.

One of the recommendations is to monitor the response from partners to the multi-agency early help strategy for children, young people and families in St Helens between 2019-22, which was approved by cabinet in April, to ensure all partners are aware of their roles and responsibilities.

“It is imperative that practices and thresholds are consistent across the council and its partners,” the report says.

“There has been an historic culture that early help is a social care responsibility when in fact it is all partners role to ensure intervention is at the earliest stage.”

Labour’s Nova Charlton, who led the review, presented the report to the children and young people’s services scrutiny panel on Monday.

“We saw a range of officers that came before us and gave a really good input into what was going on,” Coun Charlton said.

“And we felt reassured. I think I’m correct in saying that as panel members, however, we recognise that there is a lot of work to be done.”

The report is due to go before the overview and scrutiny commission next month, before going to the council’s cabinet.