St Helens Council told to address failings within children’s services

Coun Joe Pearson
Coun Joe Pearson

It is “imperative” St Helens Council address failings within children’s services as a “matter of urgency”, the councillor who oversees the portfolio has said.

Last month Ofsted wrote to the council with its damning findings following a focus visit, which looked at areas with the borough’s children’s services.

This followed an Ofsted single inspection in November 2014 that found services for children in St Helens required improvement to be good.

This week, cabinet were asked to note the letter and approve the use of reserves to implement some of the improvements set out in the draft action plan.

Coun Joe Pearson, cabinet member for developing young people, said it had become “apparent” over the last 12 months that the pace of improvements and change had not been “adequate”.

He added there are still “significant areas” within children’s services that require improvement.

The Labour councillor said: “It is clear from the letter that there are many challenges remaining in children’s social care which we need to address.

“In addition, it should be noted, the findings also reflect on other key partners within the borough, such as health, education and police.

“And these agents too will also need to look at practice and partnership working and will need to be part of the improvement journey we are all embarked upon.

“Ofsted have found areas of significant weakness that are placing children at risk of inadequate protection and significant harm and it is imperative as a local authority this is addressed as a matter of urgency.”

The focus visit, which is part of a new framework introduced by Ofsted, took place over two days in July and focused on children in need and children subject to a child protection plan.

In its findings, Ofsted issued three key priority action notices for the council to address, and several other areas of improvement.

The council were also required to submit a draft action plan to Ofsted in response to the findings, which was submitted ahead of schedule last month.

Coun Pearson said the authority is due to receive feedback from the watchdog on the action plan next week.

A new committee, the Improvement Board, has also been formed to oversee the implementation of the action plan.

Council leader Derek Long, deputy leader Andy Bowden and children and young people’s services overview and scrutiny panel chairman Nova Charlton will all sit on the Improvement Board.

The board will be chaired by an independent member and will also feature the council’s chief executive Mike Palin and strategic director Cath Fogarty.

The leaders of the St Helens Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have both been invited to join the panel also.

Coun Pearson said: “The local authority is working closely with its sector-led peers, the LGA (Local Government Association) and will continue to collaboratively work closely with Ofsted and comply with any requests to ensure determined and quick action in response to these finding so we can ensure children are not being left at risk and the outcomes for all children improve in the borough.”

Coun Long said the current state of children’s services is a “profound issue” for the local authority.

He said the council is giving Ofsted’s findings the “appropriate” level response in terms of political engagement, officer engagement and resources.

Deputy leader Andy Bowden said the council must learn “lessons” as to why vulnerable children are still at risk despite concerns being highlighted in the previous inspection.

Cllr Bowden said: “As the previous cabinet member with responsibility for children and young people, it is very disappointing to be receiving this report today, especially given the focus we’ve put on this matter previously.

“I welcome the swift action being taken but we must focus on delivering the changes that are required.

“But we must also learn lessons as to why, given the concerns highlighted in 2015-16, we find ourselves – and more importantly vulnerable children – still in this situation.”

Coun Pearson told cabinet there are some “urgent improvements” needed around IT and risk management training programmes.

He added that some restructuring is also required across some teams.

Cabinet noted the report and approved the use of council reserves to implement the action plan.