There are fears children in care are being let down by Cambridgeshire County Council after an inspector found children’s health needs were “too often” not being met, and that dental checks and immunisations for children in care “remains poor”.
An unannounced inspection of the county council’s children’s social care services took place between January 7 and January 18 this year. According to a report from Ofsted, the authority which monitors education and children’s services standards, many aspects of the service need improvement.
The report highlights fears children’s health and care needs were “too often” not being met, and that things like dental checks and immunisations for children in care “remains poor”.
The county council said it welcomes the report and is already working “swiftly” to address some of the shortcomings.
The inspection, which was carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspector Dominic Stevens, highlighted a number of areas which require improvement.
The Ofsted report notes that, while the “impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families” is considered “good”, other areas like the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, and the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, require improvement.
According to the report, the overall effectiveness of the council’s children’s social care services “requires improvement”.
The report says the most significant challenge to the local authority’s ability to provide consistently good services to children, young people and their families “has been, and continues to be, the size of caseloads”. The report says these are too high for most social workers and “unsustainable” in some teams.
According to the report, while many staff are working very hard to cope with restructuring within the service, the “quality and the timeliness of services remain less than good for too many children”. The report notes that, for these children, the local authority is “not making the positive difference it could and should”.
The inspector also found some children’s care was not updated to reflect their current circumstances and needs, for example, “not clearly stating their wishes about contact with brothers, sisters, parents” and others who are important to them.
As well as this, work to ensure that children have permanent homes is “not always pursued with sufficient pace or rigour”.
The report says: “Too often, the health needs of children are not being well met. The local authority is working hard with health agencies to address this, but the timeliness of initial and review health assessments, dental checks and immunisations for children in care remains poor.”
The county council says since the last inspection changes of senior leadership, restructuring of services, rising demand and challenges in recruiting enough social workers have had a negative impact on how well and how quickly children and their families receive help and support.
A spokeswoman for the council said leaders have recognised this and have taken “a series of well-considered actions, backed by financial investment”, which have begun to improve the quality and impact of work with children, young people and their families.
Cllr Simon Bywater, chairman of the Children and Young People’s Committee, said the council has already introduced a number of changes which, he said, are already working towards improving the service.
Cllr Bywater said: “I welcome the report. It is telling us that we understand what needs to be addressed, and that we have put the foundations in place that will deliver positive change.
“It is great that inspectors acknowledged the hard work and dedication of our staff and I want to thank all our staff and managers for continuing to improve the lives of vulnerable children and young people in Cambridgeshire. I also want to thank them for their confidence that the changes that we introduced in November will deliver a much improved service.”
The council says it is taking “swift action” to address the recommendations highlighted in the report.
There are hopes the introduction of new Children’s Practitioner roles - practitioners who support social workers so that they can focus on the most complex or urgent cases - will alleviate the workloads faced by staff.