Northants child protection services getting better

Northamptonshire County Council's headquarters in Northampton
Northamptonshire County Council's headquarters in Northampton

Big improvements have been made to the county’s child protection services since a damning 2013 assessment, a new report has revealed.

Ofsted labelled the county council service inadequate two years ago, describing “systematic weaknesses and inconsistent and ineffective practices” in the help given to vulnerable children.

But after a reassessment in December the Government watchdog this week said the council had made satisfactory progress towards improving.

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 a commitment to improve the services had been recognised.

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 well-being of children in Northamptonshire.”

The report praises a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub set up after the 2013 report, which acts as a single point of assessment for children in need. Social worker caseloads have also been reduced.

The council won praise for efforts to build a “stable and able” workforce by recruiting newly-qualified social workers via a social work academy.

Ofsted previously criticised the council for using too many agency staff members, but the number of permanent social workers and senior practitioners has increased from 49 to 330.

However, inspectors found some areas for improvement, with the council directed to improve the way it recognises children at risk of sexual exploitation and those at risk of going missing.

But Cllr Smith said almost all of the management in charge of child protection services at the time of the 2013 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.”