Fears some of Cambridgeshire’s ‘most vulnerable’ children not getting the help they need

Shire Hall in Cambridge
Shire Hall in Cambridge
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There are fears some of the “most vulnerable” children in Cambridgeshire are not getting the help they need as councillors raise concerns over staff recruitment and retention in children’s services.

Yesterday (May 23), Cambridgeshire County Council’s children and young people’s committee voted to endorse changes to the way children’s safeguarding services are delivered across the county. A report which came before the committee said a recent Ofsted inspection into children’s services at the council highlighted areas for improvement.

In a letter to the council, Ofsted summarised the findings of a “focused visit” to Cambridgeshire County Council children’s services in March 2018. It says high caseloads may be preventing some children from getting the help they need.

The letter says: “Recruitment of suitably qualified and experienced social work staff needs to be more efficient to reduce the unacceptably high caseloads in some areas.

“When caseloads are too high, children are less likely to receive a service appropriate to their identified needs, and social workers may struggle to provide consistently good quality support to children and their families.”

The letter acknowledges leaders and managers know their services well, but highlights that changes need to be made.

“They are aware that caseloads are too high in some areas and understand the impact that this has on performance and the quality of social work practice,” the letter adds. “Action has been taken to address the high number of caseloads in the last three months.”

The council report which went before the children and young people’s committee said Ofsted’s findings helped show areas in which children’s services should be improved.

The report read: “Ofsted identified, for example, that many children in need are currently being visited at only the statutory minimum levels of frequency. Visiting families infrequently is likely to extend the period of intervention and risks difficulties escalating.”

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, Lib Dem leader on the county council, said the situation is “deeply worrying” and could be leaving some of the most vulnerable young people in the county with little support.

Cllr Nethsingha said: “Children’s services in Cambridgeshire seem to have been in a constant state of re-organisation.

“The Ofsted report talks about how ‘some children are not seen regularly enough and they experience too many changes of social worker’.

“These are the most vulnerable children and Cambridgeshire’s children’s services are not doing well enough in making sure they get the help they need when they need it.”

Cllr Simon Bywater, chairman of the children and young people committee, said recruitment of staff was a particularly big issue. He said Cambridgeshire had to do more to entice and keep good staff in the area to improve services.

Cllr Bywater said: “Recruitment is an issue which makes it difficult keeping staff. We realise how good our staff are, but there is a combination of things, like the housing situation, that make it difficult to recruit people.

“It is a competitive marketplace. I think, ultimately, it is about making sure our staff are happy and we need to make sure we look after our staff and they are happy in the workplace. I think the majority of them are.”

The committee endorsed changes, including making sure safeguarding teams had a designated management role, and to develop “specialist teams” with each district in Cambridgeshire.

They also accepted a recommendation to develop a county-wide specialist service for children in care of all ages, young people leaving care and asylum-seeking young people, and to develop a separate service responsible for fostering.