Ofsted damns ‘inadequate’ Lambeth’s children’s services that leave kids at risk of sexual exploitation

Children in care who go missing from Lambeth’s ‘inadequate’ Children’s Services are at risk of sexual exploitation, according to an Ofsted report published this week.

A series of serious concerns have been raised about Lambeth Children’s Services after the damning report knocked down Lambeth’s previously ‘outstanding’ score to ‘inadequate’.

The deterioration in standards in services for children in care, leaving care and those ‘in need of help and production’ were highlighted and were judged overall as inadequate.

The report stated: “There are widespread or serious failures in the delivery of services for looked after children which result in their welfare not being safeguarded and promoted.”

Children who go missing from care are not being interviewed on their return as a matter of routine, leaving risks they are or have faced ‘unexplored’.

After several child exploitation scandals have shocked the nation the report did note that strategies to tackle the risk of exploitation were in place, but were not ‘robust’.

The report pointed to problems with management oversight, lack of continuity and poor engagement with users as key issues.

A Lambeth Council spokesman said: “Despite the huge savings we have had to make over recent years, children’s services has remained a priority and we have striven to protect them from the worst of the cuts.

“The Council is committed to maintaining this in the future.”

This comes three years after council leaders declared that any under performance would not be tolerated when Steve Reed, now Croydon North MP, was Lambeth council leader.

While the report acknowledges that there had been plans to reduce harm and promote child welfare it dismissed their ineffectiveness as ‘subject to drift and delay’.

The theme of untimeliness was common in Ofsted’s report which also found that there was high staff turnover and delays in health assessments.

Children were found to have several changes of social worker, which meant there wasn’t always an independent person for them to talk to about why they ran away.

Ofsted has said the high turnover and delays in gauging and providing specialist mental health support stops workers from assessing a child’s risk properly.

Lambeth Green Party have pointed to Councillor Imogen Walker, deputy leader for policy for children’s services, and Jane Pickard, cabinet member for children and families, to step up and take accountability for the damning report.

Green Party Councillor Scott Ainslie said: “It is not acceptable to blame front line staff or lower management for problems which are clearly the responsibility of those at cabinet level.”

Lambeth children’s services have had an inconsistent record in the quality of their services.

Despite their achievement in providing ‘outstanding’ services for children in 2012, in 2005 Ofsted had placed the services on special measures.

Cllr Imogen Walker said: “We accept Ofsted’s findings and recommendations, in relation to both Children’s Services and the Lambeth SCB judgement.

“In fact, many of the findings reflect the issues we had identified ourselves in recent months.

“Keeping our children and young people safe is our highest priority and our staff work hard under tremendous pressure to achieve this. It is disappointing that Ofsted has found that overall our service was inadequate.

“But we are not hiding from this challenge, and we are already taking urgent action to address the areas of concern.”

Lambeth council’s new chief executive Sean Harriss, who is chairing a new improvement board, saidthe council was ‘totally focused’ on delivering the changes required within the next 12-months.

He said: “We know there are big challenges ahead. But the confidence I have in our hard working social care staff, and our partner organisations, means I’m sure we can get this job done.

“The report has already galvanised us and helped set in motion wide-ranging improvements that will ensure all Lambeth’s children and young people are safe from harm and achieve their full potential.

“Lambeth is determined to improve our children and young people’s services and, even before this inspection, we had set in train improvements to meet this challenge.”

Picture courtesy of Blue Square Thing, with thanks

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