Partners in protection

27th January 2006 at 00:00
First joint inspections give high marks for collaboration. Susannah Kirkman reports

The first integrated reviews of children's services reveal a post-code lottery for children in need, with provision varying strongly from one local authority to the next.

Inspectors from Ofsted, and nine other inspectorates and commissions looked in particular for partnership, priority-setting, responsiveness and imagination in the new joint area reviews of local authority children's services.

They judged the outcomes for children and young people aged 0 to 19 in 12 categories. These include safety, achieving economic well-being and capacity to improve. The education, social care and health services also receive individual grades ranging from 1 for the poorest provision to 4 for the best.

Other inspectorates involved include the Adult Learning Inspectorate, the Commission for Social Care Inspection, the Healthcare Commission and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.

There are mixed results for the first five authorities to be assessed.

While Bournemouth and Slough were rated good (3) in all areas, Herefordshire's social care services for children and, in particular, its ability to keep children and young people safe, were classed as inadequate (1). The remaining two authorities, Enfield and the Wirral, received a clutch of 2s (adequate) and 3s.

The most successful authorities received plaudits for effective collaboration between different agencies, the cornerstone of the Every Child Matters legislation. Bournemouth, for instance, can boast many examples of effective multi-agency projects tackling issues like teenage pregnancy, health and fitness, emotional needs and educational support for looked-after children.

Slough was also praised for good inter-agency collaboration, particularly in early years education. Its director of education, Janet Tomlinson, said this means that in a children's centre, for example, a parent could attend a class or speak to the health visitor while their baby was looked after in the creche and an older child attended the primary school on the same site.

But Herefordshire was castigated for failing to co-ordinate services for children in need. The inspectors criticised a lack of training in multi-agency working and a serious shortage of qualified social workers. As a result, a "significant" number of children at high risk of abuse, neglect or domestic violence were not receiving adequate protection.

Clear prioritisation of children's needs was high on the inspection agenda, too. The Wirral was lauded for its "clearly expressed and fully shared vision for providing a range of high-quality services for children and young people". Enfield also scored well in this area by dealing swiftly with immediate priorities for improvement, such as increasing school places and reducing the number of schools with serious weaknesses.

The inspectors especially liked well-targeted initiatives, such as Bournemouth's actions to improve behaviour and prevent exclusion, and its "tenacious" attitude to non-attendance. In Slough, "well-focused"

activities in one deprived ward had reduced crime and anti-social behaviour by a third", while in Enfield, north London, "sharply focused support" was improving the quality of Pakistani-heritage boys' writing in primary schools.

Responsiveness to problems was highly valued by inspectors. Improvement to the child protection services had been a "top priority" in Bournemouth, with the result that the service was now "timely, well-managed and effective".

Imaginative schemes boosted scores, too. The inspectors singled out the Wirral's project supporting young fathers and the advice offered to social work staff and carers by the region's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). In Bournemouth, the inspectors noted that health walks, swimming breakfast clubs in five primary schools and other "boredom-busting" provision for out-of-hours sport by schools were all improving children's fitness levels. Meanwhile, "SmokeStop" was successfully targeting Year 7 pupils to prevent them starting to smoke and to tackle smoking in the home.

Perhaps the most dismaying findings related to the poor housing and inadequate CAMHS provision in almost all the authorities. Despite strenuous efforts by the authority, in Bournemouth there were still some families living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and there was only a limited supply of affordable, adequate housing, which affected all children and young people. The issue of inadequate accommodation arose in each authority, with single young people generally facing the worst problems.

As for CAMHS, although some teams were doing excellent work, there was a serious shortage of services in four of the regions. The inspectors categorise Herefordshire's provision to meet the mental health needs of children and young people as "good", yet there are no psychiatric in-patient beds for this age group in the whole county. This means that there can be long waiting times for a hospital bed and that young patients are often placed a long way from home.

Walsall's CAMHS facilities have recently won beacon status, yet children and young people with acute mental health problems which require hospital treatment frequently have to be cared for on a general paediatric ward.

In Slough, there are limited mental health services for young people with drug problems and for those from ethnic-minority backgrounds. Bournemouth's CAMHS provision is said to have improved, yet carers and others report long waits to access out-patient treatment.

The only authority to offer a comprehensive CAMHS was Enfield, which provides a good range of facilities, including specialist in-patient services for adolescents and a protocol to ensure a smooth transition to adult services.

The Place2Be The work of children's charity The Place2Be was discussed in an article on mental and emotional well-being in the issue of 13 January. We regret that the organisation's name was incorrectly spelled.

Notes and theories

Teachers' TV is featuring a week of programmes focusing on how the Every Child Matters agenda is being implemented in schools across the country and on ways teachers and governors can further its objectives in their own schools.

The channel's Every Child Matters week is from January 30 to February 4.

Each of the programmes addresses one or more of the five outcomes for children. They include the Four Ages of Every Child series, which looks at how the agenda is being applied to different age groups, and the How Am I Different? series, which gives a voice to children in challenging circumstances.

The schedule offers information and tips.

Programmes are available, following broadcast from the website where there are also supporting resources.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance has announced a series of awards for early years practitioners to recognise outstanding examples of learning through play. Parents and carers are invited to nominate "someone they believe is making a valuable difference in children's lives".

Categories include: outstanding early years group, outstanding individual practitioner and outstanding childminder.

The awards will be given during National Plan Week in June. The closing date for nominations is March 31 . Entry forms from 01628 500303 or

Medical experts have identified three new early symptoms of childhood meningitis which could speed up detection. They are cold hands or feet with a high temperature; severe limb pain and abnormally pale or mottled skin colour, especially around the eyes and lips. These are present after an average of about eight hours, while the classic symptoms typically take 13 to 22 hours to develop.

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