Quality of children's services is on the slide

Ofsted reveals number of councils `inadequate' in keeping children safe has doubled in a year

David Marley

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The quality of children's services has deteriorated worryingly in the past year, with more vulnerable children put at risk, Ofsted admitted this week.

Four councils have been told their overall standards of children's services - which include education, social services and health - are inadequate. This has jumped from none in 2007.

The number of local authorities described as inadequate at keeping children safe, one of the categories that contribute to the overall scores, has doubled from four last year to eight this year.

Christine Gilbert, Ofsted's chief inspector, said she was "concerned" that services for vulnerable children were sub-standard in some areas.

"We would expect those working in children's services to address these issues as an urgent priority," she said.

Haringey council in north London, the local authority at the centre of the Baby P tragedy, is one of the four local authorities whose children's services were rated inadequate overall, and one of the eight assessed as inadequate for keeping children safe.

Ofsted recently came in for severe criticism when it emerged that the authority was given a good rating last year.

The other three local authorities graded as inadequate overall for children's services are Doncaster, Milton Keynes and Surrey. The other seven local authorities assessed as inadequate for keeping children safe are Birmingham, Doncaster, Essex, Reading, Surrey, West Sussex and Wokingham.

The findings come from annual performance assessments of 147 local authorities published this week. Ofsted said 73 per cent were given an overall rating of good or outstanding - which is also worse than last year, when 78 per cent were given one of the top two grades.

Ms Gilbert said the assessments provided a "snapshot" of how well children's services were performing. "We recognise that data alone cannot provide a full enough picture of performance," Ms Gilbert said. "For those judged to be good or even outstanding, while this reflects that overall services are working well, it does not mean things are perfect."

Areas that need improvement include increasing the number of looked-after children assigned a named social worker, reducing teenage pregnancy, and boosting the number of young offenders in education, employment or training.

However, Ms Gilbert praised the hard work and improved services in "many authorities".

From next year, the performance assessments will be replaced with a new inspection system that will focus more on frontline practice. This will include annual unannounced inspections in every local authority.

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David Marley

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