'Not enough progress' warns latest report into Blackpool children's services
Measures to improve children's services in Blackpool are not taking effect quickly enough, according to the latest update from Ofsted inspectors.
Concerns include difficulties in recruiting experienced social workers and delays in embedding new working practices.
Ofsted inspectors Lorna Schlechte and Shabana Abasi set out their findings in a letter to children's services director Diane Booth following a monitoring visit in December.
They say in the year since Blackpool's children's services received an 'inadequate' rating from Ofsted "there has not been enough progress made to improve the quality of social work practice".
Although new ways of working have been adopted, these are taking longer than anticipated to become fully operational which has "led to delays in delivering the level of improvement required and has restricted the impact on children and young people in Blackpool."
Following the inadequate rating, the service was allowed to remain under the council's control under a programme of heavy monitoring.
In the letter published this week, inspectors acknowledge "recruitment continues to be a significant challenge" with some key posts proving hard to fill, a largely inexperienced workforce and high volumes of casework.
They raised concerns "that the response and recognition of neglect for some cases continue to be too slow, as was the case at the time of the inspection."
The letter says the council is moving in the right direction "but progress has been too slow" and the council "is yet to deliver a more consistent and effective standard of social work intervention with children and families in Blackpool."
An additional £4.3m has been spent by the council on extra staffing this financial year but there are still 31 vacancies among children's social workers, while there is a high turnover of agency staff with many leaving their roles after less than three months.
The service is predicted to overspend by around £9m in the current financial year.
Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said the scale of the challenge meant there could be no "quick fix" and admitted there was still a lot of work to be done.
He said: “We are pleased and encouraged the inspection team has recognised the work that has been undertaken over the past 12 months as well as acknowledging the very significant financial investment the council has made.
“We are still in the early stages of our improvement journey and recognise there is still much to be done, and that we need to accelerate the pace of progress in some areas.
"However, such is the scale of change we are seeking to bring about this was never about applying a quick fix.
“Given that the children’s services team is constantly coping with high levels of demand, there will no doubt be further challenges ahead.
"But we are determined to overcome these to deliver a consistent and effective level of children’s social work intervention that will give the best possible outcomes for families in Blackpool.”
Diane Booth, director of children’s services at Blackpool Council, added: “Since the initial inspection 12 months ago a new strengths-based model of practice has been developed and this will be embedded over the coming months to support the redesign of the service.
“During this period, there has been extensive engagement with a range of partners to best understand how practice can be improved and a new partnership board is due to be in place this month.
"Ultimately, this will help us to deliver the quality of service to which we all aspire.”
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative group on the council, repeated his call for the borough to have more of its own children's homes.
He said: "The Ofsted report states quite clearly that not enough progress has been made despite more cash investment and a large team focus on improvement.
"This council can no longer blame outside influences for the problem when quite clearly they themselves are not performing.
"The cost of placing these children is frightening and we are committed to provide care no matter what the final amount will be.
"Unless we develop our own facilities here in Blackpool this situation could eventually bankrupt the council."