An improvement notice has been issued to Newham Council after Ofsted rated the local authority's children's services as inadequate in an inspection report published in March.
The Secretary of State has appointed advisers to provide advice to the council, to chair the improvement board and provide improvement support to the council. The council will work with the advisers until some such time that the Secretary of State is satisfied this is no longer required.
The council’s improvement plan should deliver appropriate and sustainable improvement, covering areas identified in the Ofsted report published in March as well as recommendations made by the advisers appointed by the Department.
The report from Ofsted highlighted that there has been a significant deterioration in children’s services at the London Borough of Newham since the last Ofsted inspection in 2014.
Inadequate progress has been made in response to the areas of improvement identified in the previous inspection and in the focused visit of 2018. Significant practice deficits remain in key areas, and leaders are failing in their duties to children in care and care leavers. Leaders have not created an environment for social work to flourish, and there has been a distinct lack of ambition for children.
“Children in need of help and protection in Newham receive services which range in quality from requires improvement to be good to poor. Early help and family support services are not fully developed to be effective, particularly for older children and adolescents,” said the report. “Most children in care and care leavers are not supported well enough. Services for care leavers have deteriorated and the needs of too many young people are not met, or even known, because there is a lack of contact from the care leavers service.”
The inspectorate made a number of recommendations including the regularity and quality of staff supervision and management oversight and the quality and impact of decision-making needs improving as does the quality and timeliness of social work assessments, so that they consistently inform plans.
Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz apologised and reaffirmed her commitment to the borough’s children and young people, following the inspection. She said: "It’s clear that services for children and young people in Newham have not been good enough, and I apologise unreservedly to our young people and their families for the unacceptable failings.
“I’m ambitious for our borough’s children and promised before I was elected Mayor that I would place them at the forefront of our work and make Newham a child-centred borough - these findings further underline my commitment.
“We have made improvements during my first 10 months as Mayor, and my budget last month saw the council agree to the greatest investment in services for Newham’s children and young people in a generation.
“We will also be implementing an immediate action plan to address other issues highlighted by Ofsted, and we are determined to work in partnership with children and young people to ensure that their needs and priorities are at the heart of our improvements," she added.
Meanwhile Newham came under fire and was fined £145,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office after its youth offending team shared personal details about alleged gang members.
The penalty was issued under Section 55A of the Data Protection Act 1998 "because of a serious contravention of the First and Seventh Data Protection Principles by Newham.
The penalty has been imposed following the inadvertent distribution of an unredacted gangs matrix by the Council in January 2017 to a group of trusted and statutory partners whose work involves preventing and detecting crime, deterring gang activity and offering appropriate support for children and young people who need it.
Parts of the unredacted information about some young people who were or were suspected of being members of gangs subsequently ended up in the public domain, though neither the Metropolitan Police nor the Commissioner have been able to establish exactly how that happened.
The Council accepts that the inadvertent distribution of the unredacted matrix was a serious administrative error. The Council accepts the gravity of the breach and deeply regrets that it happened.
Mayor Fiaz said: “On behalf of Newham Council I accept the seriousness of the unredacted gangs matrix list being distributed on this single occasion in January 2017 and am sorry that it happened. While there were information sharing protocols in place at the time, clearly they could have been better. The Information Commissioner has recognised that the breach was not deliberate and we welcome that.
“Since becoming Mayor in May last year I have been embedding an enhanced culture of safeguarding across the organisation and this includes the internal control of sensitive safeguarding data in line with ICO requirements and new data protection regimes.
“The Council is committed to working with our trusted multi-agency partners to make Newham a child-centred borough where young people can feel safe and protected. The findings of the Commissioner further underlines my commitment to that," she concluded.