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Pledge to improve made by senior leadership following the release of the latest Ofsted report

9:30 am, Friday, 26th November 2021 - 3 years ago

Children and families

THE protection and support of young people in North East Lincolnshire is a top priority and will be improved in line with major recommendations.

That is the pledge from the leadership of North East Lincolnshire Council, as Children’s Services is judged ‘inadequate’.

It comes as the Services’ Director, Lisa Arthey, has announced she is leaving the authority after almost two years – eight months of those as Director. During that time significant inroads have been made into the changes that are required. In wishing her all the best for the future, the council will now look to continue the work that she has been integral in progressing.

Ofsted inspectors from the Government visited the area in October to conduct a full inspection of the department. A report into the findings, released today, is highly critical of the service saying there are ‘serious weaknesses’ in key areas.

It says three areas inspected are ‘inadequate’ with the same judgement given to the overall ‘effectiveness’ of the service. It is now confirmed that a Department for Education appointed Commissioner – a specialist in supporting local authorities to improve – will work with the council.

Leader of the Council, Cllr Philip Jackson said: “We recognise and accept Ofsted’s findings. But let me emphasise today that North East Lincolnshire Council is absolutely committed to continuing its journey of improvement and in doing so we will work with all concerned to keep our children safe.”

Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services, Cllr Ian Lindley said: “We are determined to meet these challenges. We will not shy away from this, instead we will rise to it.

“The Council is committed to work with the specialist Commissioner, alongside partners, to accelerate an improvement plan. This three-year plan, implemented in 2019, is underway and is already seeing positive changes – a fact highlighted in the report, with praise in a number of areas,” he added.

Answering criticism, which includes the identification of ‘serious and widespread’ failures with ‘too many children’s needs left unaddressed’, Cllrs Jackson and Lindley were adamant that issues will be tackled.

Cllr Lindley went on to highlight how the journey is being made against a backdrop of significant challenges. This has included unprecedented delays to its improvement plan due to Covid and the lockdown.

“For almost 18-months it was impossible to move forward in key areas of looked after children, face-to-face relationship building and social worker recruitment, the latter being a root cause of some of our issues,” said Cllr Lindley.

He highlighted other challenges including:

  • There are 582 children in North East Lincolnshire looked after by the council, which is the equivalent of 169 children per 10,000 children in the borough. The England average is just 67 children per 10,000. Hull has 155 children in every 10,000 looked after. And the rate is almost four times that of Lincolnshire, and 2.5 times that of North Lincolnshire. This number has doubled in North East Lincolnshire in the last five years compared with a national 10 per cent increase;
  • In addition to those looked after, the Service is working with a high number of other young people with a range of different needs. This is a huge challenge as a national shortage of social workers makes it extremely difficult to recruit and retain.
  • Our team has dealt with a 57 per cent increase this year and last year in the number of children in need referred to children’s social care services, when compared to the two years previous.
  • 25 per cent of children in North East Lincolnshire live in low income families and 30.1 per cent of pupils have been eligible for free school meals in the last six years.
  • Social workers are working with a large number of children. This is a huge challenge as a national shortage of social workers makes it extremely difficult to recruit and retain.
  • Children’s Services has dealt with a 57 per cent increase this year and in 2020 in the number of children in need referred to children’s social care services, when compared to 2019 and 2018.

Despite all of the above progress has been made:

  • Monthly referrals have dropped from 292 in December 2019 to 179 in August 2021.
  • The number of children with child protection plans has fallen, from 367 in December 2019 to 235 in August 2021.
  • Families and children are visited promptly with more than 80 per cent of vital visits taking place within expected timescales.
  • There has been a significant reduction in caseloads for individual social workers. (The average caseload is 16.3 in England. North East Lincolnshire’s is now 23 after reaching a high of 50 in 2019).
  • The authority is making its continued campaign to recruit social workers more effective with a firm commitment to new structures. The report highlights how ‘Permanent social workers know their children well and have been seeing children regularly. Most visits are purposeful, and children’s voices are clear.’ Like in many parts of the country, North East Lincolnshire does not have enough of them, and pledges to do everything possible to change that and alleviate pressures faced.
  • Early help support is identified by Ofsted as good and the work with young people moving out of care is also praised in the report, as is the ‘front door’ – initial meetings with families and young people.
  • The authority’s work to prevent child exploitation receives praise in the report. It states how there is an ‘effective multi-agency response and monitoring of children’, and this makes them safer. In recent years, North East Lincolnshire’s GRAFT (Gaining respect and finding trust) project received Home Office commendation for similar work.

Cllr Lindley added: “We stress again, we are not hiding from the issues that have been identified, nor are we making excuses. However, there is no doubt the pandemic did derail our plans significantly and improvements were and are being made. Now, with the support and help we will receive from the Commissioner, our partners and our dedicated and committed workforce, we will continue to grow and build this service back in a way that protects and indeed enhances the lives of our children. They are our future, and we have a responsibility to them.”

Cllr Jackson added: “We have already engaged with regional and local partners, including Lincolnshire County Council and North Lincolnshire Council, to develop a collaborative package of support to assist us with our ongoing improvement focus.”

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