Swindon Borough Council children's services rated inadequate by Ofsted

By Barrie Hudson - 11 September 2023


Ofsted inspectors have delivered a damning verdict on Swindon Borough Council's children's services.

They found, among other issues, insufficiently effective help children at risk of criminal and sexual exploitation.
Following an inspection which took place from 17 to 28 July, the effectiveness of the services were rated inadequate overall.
Specifically described as inadequate were the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection and the experiences and progress of children in care.
The experiences and progress of care leavers was described as requiring improvement in order to be good.
The inspectors noted in their report: "Since Ofsted’s last inspection in 2019, there has been a significant deterioration in the quality and impact of services for children in Swindon. 
"There are pockets of strong practice, notably with disabled children, those on the edge of care, those who are privately fostered and by the virtual school.
"However, too many children are left with unassessed needs and risks and plans that drift, and they experience too many changes of social worker.
"Children are not matched with permanent carers quickly enough. The new corporate director of children’s services has recently led a more rigorous and accurate appraisal of the quality of service provision. 
"With the backing of corporate and political leaders, this has led to work to strengthen services. 
"While this is positive, and demonstrates a strengthened local authority commitment to driving progress in services for children, these developments are largely very recent and had not, at the time of this inspection, had a significant impact."
Points raised in the report, both positive and negative, include:
- Children at risk of extra-familial harm, for example through criminal or child sexual exploitation, do not receive a sufficiently effective service
- Recognition of the impact of long-term neglect and domestic abuse is variable, and the resulting plans for children are often weak
- In the care system, most children’s physical health needs are met appropriately
- Most children in Swindon who need help or protection do not receive sufficiently effective or timely support
- When concerns about children’s welfare and safety arise outside normal working hours, interventions by the emergency duty service are not always effective
- The needs of children with a disability are consistently well met by the local authority
- Most child protection conferences have a balanced focus on risks and strengths 
- While the risk of harm to children is not always identified as consistently or as quickly as it could be, when children are recognised as at potential risk of significant harm, child protection strategy meetings are timely and attended by the appropriate professionals
- Most assessments set out a clear picture of the child’s world and identify well the strengths in the family network and those things that need to change, but some do not recognise all the risks children face
- In areas of the service where both child in need and child protection work are undertaken, there is a high turnover of social workers
- Children who are missing from education are not tracked and monitored effectively
Swindon Borough Council's ruling Labour Group said in a statement: "The Labour Group are very disappointed that OFSTED has rated Swindon Borough Council Children's Services department as Inadequate, however we are determined to focus relentlessly on improving the support for young people in the town.  Reducing inequality is one of the Council's key missions for the town and supporting children and young people sits at the heart of this. 
"As a new administration taking control in May, we were dismayed to learn of the full extent of the lack of oversight the previous political leadership had given to the service. The first action taken by Cllr Jim Robbins after his appointment as leader was to contact OFSTED to raise the concerns that we had around the delivery of Children's Services. Subsequently, Cllr Robbins and Cllr Dixon, the new Cabinet Member for Children's Services, spoke to OFSTED Regional representatives to ensure that we were taking the right action. 

"As the report makes clear the Council hasn't been delivering consistently acceptable services for children since 2019 and we are clear that we need to improve. As with the other challenges we have inherited as a new administration, we will face this head on and take all the necessary action we need to in order to improve the service and deliver the best possible outcomes for children and young people in the town.  

"We are pleased that the report takes note of the new political leadership in the town as well as the impact that the new corporate director of children’s services has had in identifying the improvements needed. The report recognises that more time is needed for the impact of these developments to be realised. We will do all that we can as an administration to support our hard-working staff to ensure that the positive changes do work and that the services improve."

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