Somerset council told child protection still needs to improve

Somerset County Council office building The council was issued with an Improvement Notice in November

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Child protection work in Somerset still needs to be improved, according to a government review, six months after the council was told it was "inadequate".

The Department for Education (DfE) issued an Improvement Notice to the authority after it was given the lowest rating for child protection by Ofsted.

The DfE said the formal six-month review showed some progress, but there was "still much to do".

The council said it was "working hard" to make "continued improvements".

'Inadequate' cases

Following an unannounced inspection last summer, government inspectors told Somerset County Council's social services department to review its child protection plans.

The inspection found that 170 (37.5%) child protection plans were inadequate; 190 cases (41.9%) were adequate; 58 (12.8%) were good; and two cases (0.4%) were outstanding.

The Improvement Notice gave the council a target of 75% of cases being judged adequate or better through assessment audits.

A DfE spokesman said any failure in children's services was "very serious".

He said: "We issued Somerset council with an Improvement Notice last November that made clear what steps need to be taken to ensure that their arrangements for the protection of children are rigorous.

"The six-month review of progress is clear that steps have been taken to address the recommendations in both the Improvement Notice and Ofsted's report. However, there is still much to do."

A council spokesman said: "We have firm plans in place, and are moving in the right direction, and at a pace that is designed to secure progress over the longer term. We still have work to do and are working hard to make continued improvements."

'Absolutely crackers'

Earlier this month the county council's annual statement of accounts showed it had spent a total of £741,000 on three temporary new staff to head up the children's services department.

The head of children's services, Peter Lewis, whose previous experience included taking over Haringey Council after the fall out of the Baby P case, was paid a salary of £341,000.

He brought with him a deputy and operations director.

Wells MP, Liberal Democrat Tessa Munt has said the amount spent was "absolutely crackers" and could be better spent employing more social workers.

Somerset County Council has said immediate improvement was needed and therefore it had to invest in high-quality temporary directors, with a proven track record.

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