In an Ofsted inspection released today Oxfordshire County Council’s children’s services has received an overall ‘good’ rating.
Despite the increase in cases of children at risk of neglect and abuse, this is the third time running the county council has received the ‘Good’ rating after an inspection by Ofsted, the children’s services watchdog.
The watchdog’s report praised the way staff had dealt with a huge rise in the number of children needing protection from abuse and neglect since 2015, and the rise in admissions to care, driven by better reporting and awareness by people working with children and families, including schools, police, nurses and GPs.
Ofsted praised the council and found that when children are at risk of harm, prompt action is taken to understand their circumstances and protect them. Children in care and care leavers receive a good service.
However, the report said more still needs to be done to ensure children suffering from neglect are getting the right help at the right time, to reduce its impact on their lives.
While most children needing help and protection are well-served, this needs to be more consistent.
The areas of improvement highlighted include; The understanding of thresholds for early help to ensure that children do not receive unnecessary statutory intervention; and The identification of the impact of the cumulative effect of neglect on children and the timeliness of interventions in response to children’s escalating needs.
There has been a 45 per cent increase in the number of cases of neglect since 2015 and this has presented a challenge to the council, at a time of budget pressures. The county council acknowledges Ofsted’s findings and is committed to improving its handling of neglect cases.
Neglect often occurs in families where drug and alcohol misuse, domestic abuse or mental health issues are prevalent, but it describes any situation in which a child is being put at risk of serious harm because their needs are not being met.
It can be very difficult to identify and ensure the right action is being taken by a wide range of professionals.
Councillor Steve Harrod, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services, said: “I am really pleased that we have receive our third ‘Good’ Ofsted rating in a row at a time when we are sadly seeing more children in need of our help, protection and care. But we’re under no illusions about the scale of the challenge ahead, and particularly the need to ensure all children receive services of the highest quality.
“The report acknowledges the positive impact of our recent service changes to handle the big increase in the number of cases of abuse and neglect we are seeing and the rise in children entering care.
“The fact that more cases are being reported at least offers some reassurance that we are working well with the police, GPs and schools so children are getting the help they need.”
The council has put in place an earlier checkpoint in the progress of a child protection case. This ensures that help for parents is accelerated and reduces the risk to children within their family home, or moves towards formal proceedings if their safety is not improving.
The council has also worked together with health and educational professionals to ensure all social workers, doctors, nurses and teachers have access to expert methods and training to achieve success in neglect cases.
Scale of the challenge.
In recent years children’s social care has faced a sharp rise in the number of children needing help and protection, with children in care rising to 700 in 2018, up from around 500 in 2015.
More than 720 children were on a child protection plan at the end of March 2018, compared with 569 on the same date three years ago.
Neglect remains by far the most common reason for children either coming into the care system or being placed on a Child Protection Plan. Assessments of children at risk of neglect also increased from 633 to 918 between 2015 and 2017.
Ofsted inspectors praised the actions taken by the leadership team during this period and said recent service changes had resulted in “an improved early help service, increased capacity in frontline staffing and an enhanced service for children in care”.
They also highlighted the professionalism and dedication of social workers for making a positive impact in the experiences and progress of children in care.
Councillor Harrod added: “Our social workers and other staff work incredibly hard to keep children safe and help them get the best possible start in life. Social workers don’t always get the recognition they deserve, so I would like to thank them for all they do to improve the lives of the children and families of Oxfordshire.”
To read the report in full click here.