‘Widespread and serious weaknesses’ in children’s services across West Sussex have been criticised in a damning Ofsted report.
The report, published this morning, rated the services ‘inadequate’ in all areas and said there had been a ‘serious decline’ since the last inspection.
Inspector Linda Steele examined the system over a three-week period and gave the county council a long list of areas which needed to improve.
The Department for Education will appoint a commissioner to work with the council to ensure the improvements are put in place.
In her report, Ms Steele said the quality of help and support received by children was ‘a lottery and depends on where they live’.
She added: “Most social work practice is weak.
“Risks to children are seldom recognised, and social workers do not see children frequently enough.
“Children’s views are not often
included in assessments and plans, and their records are rarely up to date.”
Responding to the report, leader Louise Goldsmith acknowledged that the council was ‘letting down children and families who need our help most’.
She added: “It is unacceptable – we are very sorry and bitterly disappointed.
“At the end of last year, we were aware services were fragile and announced a £5m investment programme to make urgent improvements.
“That work is still under way but as the inspectors have found, we are a long way from delivering the services vulnerable children and families of West Sussex deserve.
“I want to reassure residents that we will continue to do everything that is necessary to change our services for the better.
“The voices of our children need to be central to everything we do.
“And to that end I have already made significant changes to the Corporate Parenting Panel.”
Ofsted did acknowledge progress had been made in some areas. The support from the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) - which deals with children when they first come into contact with the council - is working well, and the care leaver’s service and the dedicated service for complex adolescents are starting to have a positive impact.
The report highlights 12 areas for improvement, including the infrastructure and services to support good quality social work practice, planning for permanent placements for children, staff recruitment and retention and active engagement with partners.
Nathan Elvery, the county council’s chief executive said: “Improving outcomes for the most vulnerable children in West Sussex is the Council’s top priority.
“We have a plan in place to drive forward this improvement and we welcome the scrutiny and continued support of the Department for Education in helping our organisation and our partners make the improvements which are necessary.
“We have recruited a new director of children’s services with a track record of leading improvement in other Local Authorities. A new improvement team will be in place to support the changes which are clearly required and ensure the quality of our social work practice is of the highest standard. We have also established an independent children’s improvement board with an independent chair to hold us fully to account on our progress.”