There are widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children and their families in Barnet, an Oftsed inspection of the local authority has found.
The inspectorate rated children’s services at the London Borough of Barnet inadequate after inspectors identified “a legacy of widespread poor practice and ongoing systemic failures”.
Partners in the multi-agency safeguarding hub do not effectively share information or ensure timely decision making. This causes delay for too many children, some of whom remain at risk of significant harm.
“Child protection investigations are of poor quality, with insufficient information sharing between partner agencies to ensure rigorous risk analysis. This results in the risks to children not being fully understood or evaluated,” said the report. “Large numbers of poor-quality assessments result in inappropriate planning, and many children subsequently need a reassessment before they can receive more specialised help and support.”
The inspectorate also found:
- Ineffective analysis of risk and assessment of children’s needs
- Poor care planning that is not focused on outcomes
- Poor-quality case recording
- Early help services are not sufficiently well coordinated or focused
Ofsted highlighted that since the local authority was last inspected in 2012, there has been a significant deterioration in the quality of service provision. However, this was recognised by the current director of children’s services, who commissioned an independent diagnostic review of children’s services in January 2016.
The review confirmed widespread systemic weaknesses in practice and action was taken to address concerns. Senior leaders have successfully gained corporate support and resources to make improvements:
- The authority entered into a collegiate partnership with a local authority that is able to share relevant social work knowledge and expertise
- From April 2016, changes to the senior leadership team were instigated
- A social work improvement board has been established to oversee a broad programme of planned activities to address ongoing deficiencies and to drive improvement.
- Further investment in senior practice leadership to enable a focus on quality of practice and children’s experiences.
“There is evidence of some recent improvements that have been made as a result of these strategies. However, to date, these have been ineffective in improving core standards of social work practice for children and their families,” said the report.
Ofsted recommends that the authority:
- Ensures a continued and sustained focus on improving core social work practice, strategically and operationally
- Ensures that partners work together in the multi-agency safeguarding hub to ensure timely and accurate information sharing
- Ensures that all children identified as being at risk of harm benefit from effective child protection enquiries.
- Ensures that the quality of assessments is sufficient to enable an accurate evaluation of the risks posed to children.
- Ensures that management decision making is effective and leads to clear, timely and effective care planning that safeguards children.
- Ensures that timely action is taken to understand and reduce risk to children who go missing from home or care and who are vulnerable to child sexual exploitation.
- Improves the standard of social work to families under the pre-proceedings phase of the Public Law Outline.
- Ensures that homeless 16-to 17-year-olds are thoroughly assessed and that appropriate ongoing support is offered to them to meet their needs.
Chris Munday, Strategic Director for Children and Young People at Barnet, said: “We fully accept the findings of the report and are committed to taking further action to ensure better support for children and young people in Barnet. The need for systemic improvement across the service was identified by us and we have been working extremely hard to implement necessary changes, but these have not yet had the impact that is needed.
“There is no place for poor standards in Barnet and I am sorry that our services haven’t been good enough for children and young people. It is our responsibility to ensure that our staff are supported and given the resources they need to do their jobs effectively and meet quality standards.
“We have undertaken a root and branch review of services and changes have been made to put children at the heart of what we do. There are new Practice Leaders in place. Caseloads for social workers have also reduced so we can improve quality and remove poor practice.
“Fundamental change of this nature can take time, but we are determined to make the necessary improvements at pace and our action plan sets that out. Safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children will always be our number one priority.”