Education & Family

Wilshaw's tough message on child protection services

Sir Michael Wilshaw
Image caption Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw warns of poor council services and irresponsible parents

"Manifestly and palpably weak" leadership and a high turnover of directors are undermining efforts to improve children's services in England, says Ofsted's chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw.

There are 20 local authorities rated as inadequate for protecting children.

Sir Michael branded Birmingham as an example of bad practice, which he called a "national disgrace".

He suggested the local authority might need to be broken up.

Sir Michael also called for a wider recognition of the impact of children's home environments, such as irresponsible and alcohol-dependent parents and living on streets lined with betting shops and fast-food shops.


Presenting his annual report on social care, Sir Michael delivered a series of hard hitting messages about weaknesses in protecting children.

Inspectors only rated four in 10 local authorities as "good" or better for safeguarding.

It should be an "urgent priority" of government to examine the role of local authority safeguarding bodies, said Sir Michael.

His inspectors had often reported major concerns about these bodies, he said.

And he warned about the negative impact of too much "volatility" in the senior leadership in children's services.

"One in three local authorities has had a change in their director of children's services last year alone. The combination of unstable communities and political and managerial instability in our social care services is a dangerous mix," said Sir Michael.

He warned that poor leadership was often isolated from frontline staff, such as social workers, many of whom felt "profoundly undervalued".

Sir Michael said that the average career span in social work was only eight years and the profession faced a "demographic timebomb".

He delivered a stinging attack on Birmingham's services for children - accusing them of long-running failures in supporting the safety and well-being of young people in England's biggest authority.

The city had a poor record on child mortality and child poverty, he said, and there had been repeated failings in inspections and inadequate serious case reviews.

This was "failure of corporate governance on a grand scale", he said.

Asked after his speech if he meant that the authority should be broken up, he said that was the implication of his argument.

In response a Birmingham City Council spokesman said: "We are already on record as saying that we have failed to meet the basic expectation of keeping vulnerable children in this city safe. This is a long-standing problem which we acknowledge and the leader has said that improving children's services is his number one priority."

"What we don't need, however, is simply a repetition of our failings without any proposed solutions," said the council spokesman.

'Social breakdown'

Sir Michael also warned of the destructive force of "social breakdown" on young lives and how they were let down by their families.

"They lack more than money, they lack parents who will take responsibility," he said.

There were 705,000 children living with alcohol-dependent parents and 130,000 in homes where there was domestic violence.

"Compassion should not be about making excuses," said Sir Michael, who warned about the corrosive consequences of the "hollowing out and fragmentation" of families.

He quoted Louise Casey, the so-called troubled families tsar, as warning that there was too much "pussyfooting around" in supporting families, with too many meetings and too little action.

Debbie Jones, Ofsted's national director of social care, said that the child protection system was under "huge pressure", with rising volumes of work at a time when local authority budgets were under pressure.

The 20 councils where the standard of child protection services has been judged "inadequate" by Ofsted are:

Barnsley, Bexley, Birmingham, Blackpool, Calderdale, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire East, Cumbria, Devon, Doncaster, Herefordshire, Isle of Wight, Kingston upon Thames, Medway, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Rochdale, Sandwell, Slough and Somerset.

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