CHILDREN’S services in Solihull have received a lowly ‘requires improvement’ rating by watchdog Ofsted.
Inspectors visited in November, and a report out today delivers the second worst rating overall for the council’s children’s services department.
The department is responsible for social work and children in care.
‘Requires improvement’ was also the verdict in three out of four categories.
In a critical report, inspectors said the borough’s children’s services are ‘not yet good’ and the council does not have a clear picture of its service quality.
Ofsted was scathing about delays in children’s care plans, finding “plans are not progressed quickly enough and, in a few cases, there is drift and delay.”
It also criticised managers’ supervision of social workers, with ‘little challenge or reflection” for teams working with vulnerable children.
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council, said: “We have made significant improvements and changes to children’s services following our previous inspection in 2016.”
That inspection also rated children’s services as ‘requires improvement.’
Ofsted added that “not all areas of concern identified at the last inspection have been addressed,” though it acknowledged progress in the early help service for resolving issues in families.
Problems were found in staff informing Solihull’s homeless 16 and 17-year-olds about their council care options, and the council fails to assess whether older teens could benefit from entering its care.
Lack of police being available for meetings also led to delays in child protection meetings, and when children go missing, social workers miss opportunities to interview them about running away from home.
The report stated that “child protection strategy meetings are subject to delays, mainly due to a lack of police availability… strategy meetings in assessment teams are delayed, sometimes by more than a week, due to a poor and slow police response [and] there are still significant delays in the police responding to meeting requests.”
Social workers having to manage child exploitation cases with three different police teams in Solihull was another cause for concern.
Progress of care leavers was rated as ‘good’, with stable homes ‘enhancing the chances of long-term positive outcomes for children.’
Social workers who deal with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were also commended as experts in their field, demonstrating ‘extensive, in-depth knowledge and skill’ to support vulnerable young migrants.
Coun Courts said: “We are disappointed not to be rated as ‘good’ in more areas, but are pleased that Ofsted acknowledge that our vulnerable children, young people and families are safe and supported. And that no children were found to be at immediate risk.
“I do hope people will take the time to read the report in full so they can see a balanced picture of the services we are providing and that we are performing well in many areas.
“But we know that there is always room for improvement and we are already developing our action plan to address the areas they identified as not yet good. We feel we have worked hard to respond to and deal with the previous inspection’s perceived areas for improvement, although more can be done.
“Despite financial pressures, children’s services remain a priority of the council. Our focus will continue to be on the wellbeing, safety and outcomes of the children in Solihull.
“We have already provided significant additional investment into these services and we are committed to ensuring we provide the best support and opportunities for our children and young people.”