Ofsted has published its first social care annual report, which reveals that 17 local authorities were judged to be ‘inadequate' in their provision of children's services in the last year. 20 local authorities overall now carry this rating, amounting to 13% - or one in every seven - of the local authorities in the UK.
The report finds that many areas are struggling to improve their performance. Workloads are greater, and children's services have received intense scrutiny generally following a series of recent high profile child deaths. In 11 of the authorities rated inadequate new Directors of Children's Services had recently been appointed and in 12 of them there had been another major change in senior leadership in recent times. Ofsted's inspection concludes that notwithstanding other factors contributing to failings within children's services, it is strong and stable leadership that is required to improve services.
To complicate matters further, the authorities judged inadequate in 2013 are fairly different to those receiving that judgement in July 2012.
Ofsted's National Director for Social Care, Debbie Jones, said:
'The picture of performance we are publishing today shows there is clearly an on-going need for improvement.
Some services are increasingly expert at reducing risk, helping families to look after their children and enabling children at risk in their area to make good progress.
It can be done, and therefore it must be done in all areas, equally well. Ofsted will be rigorous in holding local councils and social care providers to account but we will also support them to make the improvements that children deserve.'
Responding to the report, Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said:
'Nothing councils do is more important than protecting children and the responsibility on local authorities to continually make sure children are becoming safer is one which every council takes incredibly seriously.
Heinous crimes of neglect and abuse have brought sharply into focus the need for vigilance. As a result there are tens of thousands more children on the radar of social services than seven years ago. The number of looked-after children under the care and supervision of local authorities is now higher than at any point in almost 30 years.
Councils know they have a key role to play in looking after children but it is not a job which they can do alone. It is everyone's responsibility to keep children safe from harm. The aim must now be to create a culture of moral responsibility in which people know how to raise the alarm and feel confident that if they come forward with legitimate concerns those concerns will be dealt with in a swift, proportionate and effective way.'