Recruitment of social workers is Luton's 'biggest problem' improving social services

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The council's scrutiny committee has begun looking at what went wrong following a dismal Ofsted inspection of children’s services in Luton.

The local authority was forced to apologise saying it was “truly sorry” for the failings highlighted in the report.

Ofsted spent two weeks examining the borough council’s performance in January and rated it 'Inadequate' overall, as well as 'Inadequate' in the sub-category of help and protection of children.

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Its performance on sub-categories of children in care and management leadership were rated 'Requires Improvement'.

Luton Borough CouncilLuton Borough Council
Luton Borough Council

The local authority expects Ofsted to return for a full re-inspection early in 2022.

At Monday's meeting, Allison Parkinson, director of children’s operations services, described the outcome as “a tight call” and highlighted several areas in need of improvement.

She said: “Recruitment and retention of permanent staff remains our biggest challenge.

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“Too many children have experienced multiple change of social workers making it hard to build relationships.”

Liberal Democrat Crawley councillor Terry Keens, who chairs the group, started the meeting with the report, which was last on the agenda.

He said: “It’s very detailed. I would rather have it now when we are fresh.

“Do we want to ask questions at all? We’re not criticising. We’re actually asking questions.”

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Corporate director children, families and education services Amanda Lewis said: “The inspection team found that social workers maintained regular contact with our children in care and the virtual school works well.

“It was viewed as a really important strength and that leaders have a secure understanding of the development of pupils and ensure they get the right support.

“We are committed financially to reduce case loads. The impact has only been seen in some teams.

“There is an integrated approach to families over some of the changes being made and progress was more evident over the last six months on improved quality assurance arrangements.

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“Young people in Luton have a really strong voice in shaping the direction of travel,” she added.

“But at times we’re not quick enough in responding to their feedback on some of the big changes which need to be made.

“We are politically led by councillor (Mahmood) Hussain, but we are committed corporate parents and they could really see the evidence of that.

“The mentoring scheme and guaranteed interview scheme, again under the umbrella of the virtual school, that’s a really important innovative approach as part of our corporate parenting responsibility.”

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The council is working on its improvement plan and the “resource implications of that plan”, according to the corporate director.

“We will receive several focused monitoring visits from Ofsted before we are subject to a further inspection in two years’ time, ” she said.

“The first one will take place within six months. We will have two weeks’ notice of these and they will last two days.”