Review says Blackpool Council CAN continue to run children's social services following 'inadequate' rating

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Blackpool Council has been told it can keep control of children's social care in the town and should harness the "same verve and passion" that has helped deliver regeneration in order to improve the service.

The decision comes six months after the council's Children's Services were branded 'inadequate' by Ofsted inspectors who warned some of the town’s most vulnerable children were living in "chronic neglect".

Children's social care is on track to improve

Children's social care is on track to improve

Read more Damning Ofsted report rates Blackpool children's social services inadequate AGAIN
The council faced having the department taken out of its hands if it could not prove it was implementing improvements.

Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds has accepted a recommendation by Children's Commissioner Helen Lincoln to leave the service in the council's control, but it will continue to be heavily monitored.

In her report to the Secretary of State, the commissioner said moving to a trust or any other delivery model would not give any additional impetus to the improvement work already in place.

This has included a £5m injection of cash, the recruitment of 65 additional social workers with nine existing vacancies filled, and appointments including a dedicated head of safeguarding.

Coun Simon Blackburn

Coun Simon Blackburn

The replacement of the previous director of children's services in 2017 with current director Diane Booth had also seen an improvement programme instigated prior to the inspection.

However the report recommends more collaberative working with partners including the police and schools, and a stronger focus on early intervention.

The Ofsted report published in January, saw the council's Children’s Social Care Service rated inadequate for the second time in six years.

Leadership came in for criticism with the report saying some children were living “in neglectful circumstances for longer than they should, resulting in their needs often becoming more complex”.

Ms Lincoln's report acknowledged the high levels of deprivation in Blackpool placed "very high demand on children's services".

She added: "The local authority has over the last decade embarked on an ambitious programme of economic and infrastructural development that is bringing investment and jobs to the town.

"However the local authority has not developed the same level of strategic plan with partners for its children."

She said "senior leadership of the council took their eye off the ball between 2014 and 2017" when the focus was "on much needed economic and infrastructure regeneration of the town."

However she had now seen commitment to children's services becoming a priority with more scrutiny of the way the service is run, and additional funding of £5m to support frontline social workers.

The commissioner’s report, following a three month review which began in March, said the Ofsted inspection had provided additional impetus for the political and executive leadership team to hasten the pace of change.

However, it adds that it is still early days and recommended to the Secretary of State that commissioner oversight should continue with further assessments of progress every six months for at least a year.

In addition, Blackpool will benefit from the usual series of Ofsted monitoring visits to test out its progress.

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said he now believed the council was on the right track to secure a 'good' rating eventually.

He said : “I am pleased and encouraged the commissioner has recognised the dedication of the children’s social care team and the council’s commitment to improving the life chances of our children and young people.

“At no time have I, or we, shied away from the significant challenges we face in Blackpool and the demands that these place on our children’s services.

“We made it very clear at the time of the Ofsted judgment that we had already put plans in place to address any deficits in our children’s services, but emphasised that we were at the start of a journey, albeit one where the pace of change needed to increase."

He added that a lot of hard work was required before the council could secure a hoped for 'good' rating but for the first time he felt the right circumstances were in place.

Coun Blackburn said: "I think that going right back to when the council was created in 1998 (when we split from Lancashire County Council), we’ve lacked that same level of confidence.

"We had one director of children’s services for many years, but have then had three others in relatively quick succession, so change has been incremental and slow.

“Now, for the first time, we have a qualified social worker as our director, backed by other social work qualified deputies and heads of service. We’re seeing change happening more quickly, and in a more structured and considered way.

“The next phase is our recovery journey, which I am confident will see the council improve, incrementally, but as quickly as sustainably possible, until we get where we want to be which is an Ofsted grading of 'good'."

Diane Booth, director of children’s services, added: “The 12-week review period has given the commissioner and her colleagues from Essex an opportunity to take a close look at the improvement programme that was already in train and to challenge us on how things might be done differently to add value to that programme.

“This has given us the opportunity to listen and learn, and to incorporate their considered advice into our improvement plan. We have appreciated their support and advice and welcome the continued relationship with the commissioner and her team."

Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative opposition on Blackpool Council, welcomed the minister's decision.

He said: "I am pleased for the team who have worked hard to towards getting, what had become a shambolic and serious situation , to be pointing in the right direction.

"The additional monitoring will help in keeping this focus on track and I for one will be extremely happy if the high number of looked after children in our care can look forward to a better future."

The commissioner’s report outlined the major issues that Blackpool faces in order to make the required improvements. These include:

❖ Establishing a strong and effective Strategic Children’s Partnership with police, education and health that has “an unrelenting focus” on improving outcomes for children and young people

❖ Develop a strengths-based social work practice model that seeks to engage with children and families to enable change

❖ Alignment of resources and systems in early help and front door services so that children and their families get an effective response that is proportionate to their needs.

Recent changes include:

Closer working with schools - a helpline has been set up to enable professionals working with children to discuss any concerns directly with social workers.

Social workers are spending more time with children and families to build up positive relationships so they can build on family strengths as well as seeking to understand underlying problems.

The 'Getting to Good' Board has replaced the Children's Improvement Board and is made up of senior representatives of educational organisations, the police, council, NHS and Ofsted.