Leader’s vow after watchdog criticism

Blackpool Town Hall
Blackpool Town Hall
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The leader of Blackpool Council today said services to protect the resort’s vulnerable children were moving in the right direction – despite a raft of concerns highlighted by Government inspectors.

A report by watchdog Ofsted said while the services, which were slammed and branded ‘inadequate’ in 2012, have shown significant progress, improvements were still needed.

The 43-page report, released yesterday, and based on an inspection in July, concludes the council’s childrens’ service “requires improvement” in three key areas –children who need help and protection, children looked after and leadership, management and governance.

The report said “not everyone who works with children understands what they need to do” meaning some youngsters do not get the right help quickly enough.

And it highlights a number of issues including:

n Not enough children having plans to place to make sure they are getting help at school

n Social workers do not get enough time to think about their work or talk to their managers

n Not enough young people who leave care end up getting a job or going to college.

Today council leader 
Simon Blackburn said tackling transience was key to ensuring vulnerable children in Blackpool get a fair deal.

He added building stable communities will help identify children in need of urgent help.

The resort currently has high levels of in-migration, with problem families arriving here from other areas of the country going undetected and moving frequently around the town once they arrive. This means neighbours often have no idea who is living near them on any given street in certain areas.

Coun Blackburn said: “People move in and out with such regularity that nobody would know even how many children lived in a flat or house unless you start to build that stable community.

“If you get children settled in one school, fed properly with free school breakfasts then you start to erode of the behaviour that leads to problems.”

Coun Blackburn pointed to the recent redevelopment of the former Queens Park flats, as well as the ongoing work at the proposed 450 home Foxhall Village development and the South Beach selective licensing scheme, which requires landlords to ensure property is kept at a good standard, as examples of how keeping tabs on the resort’s population can help keep track of those most in need.

He added: “The issue really isn’t about people who are known to social services. If you look back at a lot of child deaths across the country over the years, these are families that weren’t known to social services. It’s these people that I worry about.

“When we build these 450 houses some could be bought by local people who perhaps work in Liverpool or Manchester but want to get on the housing ladder. That will create that stable community.”

The Ofsted report said improvement was still needed in all areas of child services, but commended progress which had been made in the last two years on the subject of children in care.

Coun Blackburn said: “I don’t think you could say the authority is yet good, we do still require improvement.

“I’m really impressed by the amount of work that’s gone on. It’s a fair report, I thought the last one was too.”

The report is a far cry from the authority’s last major inspection in 2012, which raised major concerns and branded the service “inadequate”, saying elements of it were “unacceptable.”

But it concludes that “the authority is not yet delivering good protection, help or care for children, young people and families.”

It criticised the council for having an “insufficient focus” on improving services for children leaving care, according to the report published on Monday morning.

And other recommendations from the July inspection include “immediate action” on ensuring different statutory bodies are aware of their responsibilities when working with children who need help and protection.

The report also says too many looked after children do not have up to date health assessments. It sets out a 19 point checklist of areas where the council needs to improve.

That includes two areas of “immediate action” – the need to develop a leaving care service improvement plan. The council also needs to ensure all looked after youngsters have a ‘pathway plan’ – a document which clearly maps out goals for youngsters including health and development, training, education and employment and contact with parents and friends.

Despite the criticisms, the report also points out a number of things the service is doing well. It adds: “Social workers, senior managers and councillors all want to make services for children and young people good, and are working hard to do this.”

And agreeing with the assessment of Coun Blackburn, it adds: “Ofsted found that these services are now better, and the local authority has worked hard to improve things, but there is more for them to do to make them good.”