Doncaster children's services 'inadequate' says Ofsted

Lord Carlile says there were "over a hundred events" before the two boys were prosecuted

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Some of Doncaster's most vulnerable children are being put at risk by poor standards of council care, an inspection has found.

Ofsted said inadequate arrangements were in place to protect children.

The service has been criticised in the past over the deaths of seven children and failures that led to two boys being tortured in Edlington.

The council said it was dealing with an "overwhelming" number of children and struggling to get experienced staff.

The Ofsted report coincides with the publication of a second report by Lord Carlile into the Edlington case, in which two young boys were tortured by two brothers, aged 11 and 12, in April 2009.

That report also highlighted that weaknesses remain in child protection services.

The 10-day Ofsted inspection carried out in October looked at how well front-line council services help and protect children and young people, keeping them safe from harm and well cared for.

'Systematically broken'

Inspectors found that there was poor work with children and families, and therefore, services were not managing risks for some children as they should be.

The report said: "Sometimes social workers don't realise soon enough that children and young people are at risk of real harm."

It added: "Most social workers have a large number of families to work with which means there are some delays in handing out new work.

"Those in charge of improving, running and checking Doncaster's services are working well, have not made sure that when there are delays those children that need help quickly are protected."

In December 2008, Doncaster's children's services were rated inadequate by Ofsted and a month later an inquiry was launched after serious case reviews were ordered into the deaths of seven children who had been neglected or abused between 2004 and 2008.

Analysis

When inspectors knocked on the door of Doncaster's Children's Services last month the hope was that the "shambolic" situation of 2009 had changed. But not enough has.

As a council that has been consistently held up as a bad example of how to keep children safe, insiders tell me that it is tough to recruit and keep staff there; a vicious circle that has contributed to this inadequate rating.

Doncaster has more children in care now than it ever has. The number of investigations has tripled in the last two years. The council sees that as a sign its work has improved.

But it is still not good enough for inspectors. Children are not safe enough.

Things will get harder, inspections are getting tougher and money is getting tighter. Cuts mean services are shrinking but the protection of children is the one thing councils say needs to stay well funded.

In March 2009, after the inquiry found children's services provision to be "seriously weak", the government ordered a takeover of the department.

In January 2010, a serious case review found that the attacks in Edlington had been "preventable".

An Ofsted inspection later that year deemed children's services to be performing poorly.

However, two inspections last year found progress had been made in the department and it was rated as adequate.

Chris Pratt, director of children's services, said: "It is clear that we have not yet fully recovered the systematically broken services that we previously had, and as Ofsted says, features of that of that systematic failure remain today."

Mr Pratt said as a result of better child protection work the service was dealing with three times as many child protection investigations as it was two years ago.

He said: "Together with huge difficulties in attracting experienced social work professionals to work in Doncaster, this has put tremendous pressure on our services and meant our journey of recovery hasn't coped as well as we had planned.

"However, these are not excuses and we can and must do better to improve services."

'Too many excuses'

Dr Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, said: "It's harder to do it now.

"There are more children who need protecting because there's greater deprivation and poverty in our communities with benefits being cut... and we've got an inspectorate... lacking some confidence in telling people how well they're doing as well as how badly they're doing.

Director of children's services Chris Pratt said he intended to stay in his post

"I don't think it's been helped by having yet another inquiry into what happened in Edlington because Doncaster keeps being pulled backwards rather than being allowed to move forwards."

Lord Carlile's report was ordered by Education Secretary Michael Gove following the publication of the full serious case review into the Edlington attack.

Mr Gove said the serious case review into the background to the incident did not "meet his expectations".

Lord Carlile said: "I found that Doncaster today is not faced with the shambolic situation of early 2009.

"However, there remain weaknesses, which have been highlighted by the consequences of a severely critical report following an Ofsetd inspection in October 2012 of the arrangements in Doncaster for the protection of children."

Martin Williams, an independent Doncaster councillor, said: "There's too many excuses and not enough action; this department lurches from crisis to crisis.

"Some hard graft needs to be done to find out why it's so difficult to keep it up to scratch.

"In April last year it was given an adequate rating so that was the time to put on the building blocks and build from it, but they've just gone backwards."

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