Child protection services in Northants have improved, inspectors say

Cllr Heather Smith
Cllr Heather Smith

Notable improvements have been made to Northamptonshire’s child protection services since a damming 2013 assessment, a new report has revealed.

Ofsted labelled the county council-run service inadequate two years ago, describing “systematic weaknesses and inconsistent and ineffective practices” in the way the authority helped vulnerable children.

But the Government watchdog said today (Tuesday, January 6) that Northamptonshire County Council was making satisfactory progress towards improvements.

The publication of the report follows an assessment in December.

And the councillor responsible for children’s services said the previous inadequate rating had ensured sweeping, rather than relatively minor, changes had been made.

Inspectors said the council had improved the way it manages referrals and identifies those at risk of abuse since the last inspection.

Cllr Heather Smith, cabinet member for children’s services, said she was glad inspectors had recognised the authority’s “commitment to improve child protection services”.

She added: “Now we need to move forward and focus on continuing to improve the help, support and intervention we provide to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children in Northamptonshire.”

The report praised the authority’s new Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), set up in the wake of the 2013 report, which now acts as a single point of assessment for children in need.

Social worker caseloads have been reduced, with 71 per cent of staff now managing a maximum of 20 cases, compared with 65 per cent a year ago.

The council was praised for its efforts to build a ‘stable and able’ workforce by recruiting newly-qualified social workers through its social work academy.

The previous Ofsted inspection criticised the council for using too many agency staff members. However now the number of permanent social workers and senior practitioners has increased from 49 to 330.

A recruitment drive of 30 qualified social workers from India is underway, who are likely to start in March.

However, inspectors found some areas for improvement such as ensuring all children in need have plans which are regularly reviewed.

The council was directed to improve the way it recognises children at risk of sexual exploitation and those at risk of going missing from home, care or school.

But Cllr Smith said almost all of the management in charge of child protection services at the time of the 2013 Ofsted report have since been axed.

She said: “In a way, the inadequate rating was a huge favour. There is no way the service could have got blown apart the way it has otherwise.

“This was a seismic thing to happen and the only thing we could do was to bring the organisation up from the ground.”