Out of seven council-run homes inspected by Ofsted since June, three were judged “inadequate.”
They were Valley View, Owlthorpe and The Willows. The latter two had previously been judged as “good.” Wedgewood was judged to “require improvement” and the other three retained their “good” judgement.
Issues raised at the inadequate homes were resignations of senior managers, a “significant” number of staff on long-term sickness absence and a high reliance on agency staff.
The physical state of some homes was also criticised.
The report, which went to the council’s children’s services scrutiny committee on October 6, said work was underway to identify ways of improving the homes.
At the meeting Marium Haque, deputy director for education and learning, who has been in the post for two and a half years, told members she has taken action to improve homes since she took on responsibility for them in August.
But committee members lamented the fact that serious issues were still being found in the council’s children’s services three years after the entire department was judged inadequate by Ofsted.
Councillor Brendan Stubbs said: “We are three years into an improvement plan for children’s services and we get this offensive report. Our job is to care for these children, and we are failing them spectacularly.”
Addressing Mrs Haque he said: “You’ve been at the council for quite a while, at what point do you accept responsibility for things not happening quickly enough?
“How is it not apparent to people working in these homes that they are in the state they are and why wasn’t action taken until Ofsted came? At what point to you take responsibility and take more severe action to sort this out?
“We’re three years into the plan and we seem to be going backwards. I know you can always have a blip, but this is not a blip – it is going from good to inadequate.”
Mrs Haque said she was “not someone who shirks responsibility” but that until August residential care did not come under her remit.
She added: “I’ve asked questions and accepted answers in good faith. We’ve since done an awful lot of reflection, could we have asked more questions?We’re now much more direct and improving this is something we’re incredibly committed to.
“We’re looking to refresh our improvement plan and make sure there is a focus on this area.”
Coun Talat Sajawal said: “I’m overwhelmed and shocked at the state of our children’s homes. They are supposed to be safe places for our children. This has found the system is broken. For managers to be resigning and staff to be off long term sick – why were no alarm bells raised that there might be problems in our children’s homes?
“This is beyond shocking. It is beyond belief that as a council we can’t safeguard our children. It is beyond shameful.
“The most critical piece of work an authority can do is to protect our most vulnerable children. Since I became a Councillor five years ago all I’ve heard is that we’re on an improvement plan.
“We want to be able to speak to parents and say ‘don’t worry, we’re looking after your children.’ This report is a confirmation of parents’s concerns and I want to see radical change to make this better.”