Board for improving children's services are 'same people who failed in first place' says Luton councillor

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The board responsible for transforming children's services in Luton are the same people who failed the system in the first place, it has been claimed.

Officers should also shoulder some of the blame for being complacent, according to the council's children's services scrutiny group chairman.

Liberal Democrat Crawley councillor Terry Keens said that the contents of an improvement plan - made after a critical Ofsted report in January - should have been in existence already.

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He was disappointed the executive member for children’s health and wellbeing, Labour Farley councillor Mahmood Hussain, was absent from a review group meeting where the council's response was being presented.

Luton Town HallLuton Town Hall
Luton Town Hall

Councillor Hussain, who participated in a development control committee meeting on the same evening, presented the report to the executive four days later.

The local authority's corporate director people Amanda Lewis gave the presentation on children's services improvements to the review group.

Speaking after the meeting, councillor Keens said: "These items should have been there and we shouldn't have to wait to get a poor Ofsted report.

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"The officers must take a certain amount of the blame for being complacent.

"Many good questions were raised. My only real objection was on the format of the board to oversee these proposals.

"It consists of the very same people who failed the system in the first place, including councillor Hussain.

"The children's improvement board doesn't include youth panel members, representation from youth offending or anyone from the review group.

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"I'm going to look into why none of these are being represented," he added.

The overall effectiveness of the service was judged to be inadequate, according to the report to the review group.

"The pace of change hasn't been enough to address critical weaknesses in practice for children in need of help and protection," said the report.

The Luton draft children’s improvement plan and the draft delivery plan form the council's response.

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"Ensuring our services are the best they can be is our top priority," explained the report.

The council has promised "to go beyond the good judgement to achieve outstanding as described by Ofsted".

The executive approved a £1.7m "demand led resource plan" in April to enable the improvements to be delivered.

Immediate changes include a new operating process for the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) and a recovery plan for the children's assessment service.

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The service director for operational children services has met judges through the court user group over a review of all cases in court and the tracking of court activity.

The review of all open cases will start with children on child protection plans for over a year and children receiving support for more than 12 months.

Operational performance is now discussed weekly and there are plans to reduce the numbers of agency staff and increase the amount of permanent social workers.

Another aim is "to enable greater collaboration and co-production with service users", added the report.

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At least six monitoring visits by Ofsted are expected, starting six months after the report's publication date in September.

"The corporate director for children’s services will provide progress reports to the review group every three months."

At the executive meeting, councillor Hussain was asked whether the plans can be delivered, given the amount of money the service has to save.

He replied: "Taking into account the emergency budget, we have to keep an eye that it doesn't have an impact on the service."

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