THREE-QUARTERS of children’s services departments across England, including two in South Yorkshire, are inadequate or require improvement, an Ofsted report has found.
The report, which singles out council services in Rotherham and Doncaster, says quality of leadership and not lack of funding is to blame for failings.
Doncaster was first judged inadequate three years ago, when former Education Secretary Michael Gove took responsibility for protecting children away from the council, following a criticism over the tragedy in the village of Edlington, in which two young boys were tortured by two brothers.
The latest report blames weak leadership and too-high caseloads as reasons why some local authorities are failing to care for vulnerable children, with child protection performing particularly poorly.
A quarter of the 87 authorities inspected under a new, more rigorous, regime were judged inadequate. These included Rotherham, where a series of high-profile court cases have revealed widespread sexual abuse of children.
Only 23 authorities, including Leeds and North Yorkshire, were judged to be providing “good help and protection”.
Common features of inadequate services include children having too many changes of social worker, high caseloads, delays in undertaking visits and a failure to see children alone.
Poor leadership or supervision of social workers were also highlighted as reasons, alongside assessments taking too long to complete.
The report stressed that “failure is not because of lesser or greater funding; it’s about how local authorities use their funding. Some of the highest spending local authorities were also the weakest.”
Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw said: “The picture of performance we are publishing today shows there is clearly an ongoing need for improvement. While we have seen some green shoots of progress, too many areas are still failing the children they are charged with protecting.
“This report shows that the context of a local authority, including size, deprivation and funding, cannot be used as an excuse for poor performance. If some authorities can succeed in difficult circumstances, so can others.
“As I have said many times before, the driving factor that makes change happen at pace is good leadership. Areas that are letting children down must look to their higher performing counterparts with urgency, and follow their example.”
There are currently 50,000 children on child protection plans in England. Some 70,000 children are currently “looked after”, such as in foster homes or placed for adoption.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Nothing is more important than keeping children safe, and we will not hesitate to intervene when local authorities are failing vulnerable children and families.
“The Children and Social Work Bill will enable the creation of a specialist regulator with a relentless focus on raising quality, education, training and practice in both children’s and adults’ social work.”
An NSPCC spokesman said an “unacceptable number” of departments were inadequate.
He added: “In recent months we have seen a series of horrific cases emphasising more than ever the need to ensure that these departments are strong and effective in order to protect children.”