Luton Borough Council 'truly sorry' after children's services rated 'Inadequate' in damning Ofsted report
Luton Borough Council is urgently reviewing its children's services following a damning inspection by Ofsted, which issued the lowest grade.
Ofsted carried out a full two-week inspection of children’s social care services in Luton from January 13 to 24 and published its findings today.
The inspection team graded the council’s overall provision to be "Inadequate" with improvements needed in the following areas:
> Recruitment and retention of social workers is a problem, with staff turnover "still too high" although this has started to reduce.
> Experiences of children who need protection are "inadequate", with the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) failing to identify risks and needs.
> Continuing shortage of foster carers in Luton means too many children are living at a distance from family and friends.
The report stated: "Some services for children have declined since the last inspection. Widespread and serious weaknesses mean that too many children in need of protection do not receive the help they need at the right time.
"In particular, poor decision-making, delay and a failure to take decisive and authoritative action when risks increase mean that some children are left in unassessed or in harmful situations for too long."
The report noted that the council had made "strenuous efforts" to improve the experiences of children in care following a visit by inspectors in 2019, with some improvements gained and better financial investment into social care.
But, it added: "Caseloads are still too high in some teams to support effective social work practice. Too many children experience frequent changes of social worker."
Luton Borough Council has one of the highest levels of poverty in the East of England, with 46% of children living below the poverty line.
Overall, the authority is ranked 70th for deprivation out of 317 councils, with four areas (two in Farley, one in South and one in Northwell ward) among the top 10% most deprived in the country.
The council currently has 378 children in council care and 249 care leavers, as well as supporting 1,918 ‘children identified as "in need" and 223 children on child protection plans. The majority of children are aged between 10 and 15 years.
It is estimated that 90% of children’s social care cases in Luton are linked to domestic abuse, drug and alcohol misuse and mental ill health issues.
Cllr Mahmood Hussain, portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “We are truly sorry that some children are not getting the right help at the right time and we will do whatever it takes to put this right.
“We have put in place systems to respond better to children at risk of radicalisation, female genital mutilation and forced marriage which are having a positive impact and we have developed our Early Help service where children and their families are benefiting from early interventions.
“While the report did list these and other areas as strengths, we fully accept that our overall performance is far from where it should be, and we will fix this.”
Robin Porter, chief executive of Luton Borough Council, added: “Since starting in my role I have seen how dedicated and hardworking our children’s social care staff are, and how determined they are to try to achieve the best outcomes for children.
“We have been supporting them by increasing the investment into children’s services, however this report clearly states that better support and systems need to be put in place and we’ve immediately taken action to address some of these.
"We still have much more to do to ensure all of our most vulnerable children and young people receive the highest standards of protection and care, and that all children are in a position to thrive and feel safe.
"We are absolutely committed to and focused on ensuring this happens.”