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Serious weaknesses in Cumbria council's safeguarding of children

An official probe has found serious weaknesses in safeguarding services for children in Cumbria.

From left, Dr Neela Shabde, medical director for children NHS Cumbria, Moira Angel, executive director of nursing, NHS Cumbria, Julia Morrison, corporate director of children’s services, Cumbria County Council and county councillor Anne Burns, cabinet member for children’s services

Inspectors looked at 67 case files and found problems in 15. Despite this, officials are confident that vulnerable youngsters are not at risk.

The inspection was carried out in April by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

It looked at how the authorities protect children from harm and ensure they grow up safely and healthily.

The verdict was that the service is “inadequate”.

And the inspectors’ report, published today, suggests that a recent cost-saving restructure of the county council’s children’s services directorate may be a factor.

The report says: “The lack of effectively co-ordinated early help for families....leads to increased pressures on social-care services.

“The newly-created early-intervention teams have not yet been able to fulfil their purpose.

“Instead, child and family workers in these teams are undertaking work....without suitable training and sufficiently robust management oversight.

“As a result, many of the cases sampled had significant assessment, planning and practice weaknesses.

“In some cases it was not clear that all risks had been identified, assessed and appropriate plans put in place, potentially leaving children at continued risk of harm.”

The inspectors say that quality assurance activities “reduced significantly” during the restructure last year.

Children were not spoken to often enough nor were they given a say in how services affecting them are provided.

The inspectors have made 16 recommendations for improvement.

These include a review of all case files, more training for staff and a review of the role and deployment of child and family workers.

They conclude, however, that “children and young people are safe and feel safe.”

Julia Morrison, the council’s director of children’s services, was “disappointed” with the findings but said they should be seen in context.

Inspectors found weaknesses in only four of the 18 areas they assessed. Services for children who had been taken into care were “adequate”.

Mrs Morrison said: “There are weaknesses that we accept and acknowledge and we are working on already.

“The report does confirm that children in Cumbria are safe and feel safe. The inspectors believe that the right plans and people are in place to improve performance.”

She said that the restructure had increased the size of the children’s and families’ team from 133 social workers and senior practitioners to 162.

Councillor Anne Burns, the cabinet member for children’s services, admitted that the restructure had led the council “to take our eye off the ball”.

But she added: “We have some wonderful staff out there who are doing fantastic work with young people. This [report] shouldn’t knock their confidence.”

The inspectors also criticised the role of health agencies, including GPs, in keeping young people safe.

They found gaps in joint working and the in the availability of professional support services for children with disabilities and complex needs.

And they identified staff shortages, such as a lack of paediatric nurse cover in hospital A&E departments.

Dr Neela Shabde, medical director for children at Cumbria NHS, said staffing issues were being addressed. The NHS was taking on more community nurses and health visitors.

And she pledged that health professionals would work more closely with each other and other agencies in future.

She added: “Plans are in place to take this forward. Actions speak louder than words.”

Have your say

This is sad to hear and is not a reflection on the staff delivering the service but a reflection of the massive restructure within Cumbria county council! i believe the vision is to work smarter not harder ? well how can this be with the amount of staff being made redundant within the authority.How much does Julia morrison get paid ? 125K per year i believe! in the private sector she would be dismissed for that report

Posted by paul on 1 June 2012 at 05:14

@Anon - "It's time this country realised that most children have one mummy and one daddy that can look after their offspring!"

And what if they don't, or can't look after them? What exactly are you suggesting? Perhaps we should just abandon children to their fate - at least your Council tax bill would reduce a bit, Anon.

Posted by Evil McBad on 30 May 2012 at 15:51

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