Birmingham & Black Country

Walsall children's services head to quit over report

The head of children's services in Walsall will leave the post after a report found vulnerable children were being "left at potential risk of harm".

Ofsted inspectors visiting the area in June rated safeguarding services as inadequate, the lowest of four ratings.

Social worker assessments and performance management were most severely criticised.

The council said Pauline Pilkington will leave in autumn after overseeing the first phase of improvements.

Mrs Pilkington has a 30-year career in the field and was awarded an MBE for services to local government in 2009.

Councillor Rachel Andrew said: "It will be important to ensure that we have the right people in the right place to drive forward our improvement plan and the council will be looking at this in due course.

"The executive director of children's services has decided to leave the authority once the first phase of the improvement plan is over and the council has identified a successor."

'Too variable'

The council said it was already taking action to improve standards after the "rigorous" two-week inspection.

Ms Andrew said: "Our children and young people deserve better and residents can be assured that the council - and its partners who are involved in safeguarding in Walsall - are conducting a root and branch review of our policies, processes and services and are determined to improve those found wanting by inspectors."

She added that the council felt it had been judged by a "tougher than ever set of criteria".

Ofsted said it was concerned that the "current safeguarding practice and management systems do not consistently ensure that the most vulnerable children in Walsall are effectively safeguarded or protected".

The report found that performance was "too variable" and had particular concerns over risk assessments, with inspectors witnessing high-risk situations incorrectly identified as low risk.

They went on to say that planning did not routinely identify risks, which meant interventions were often poorly focussed.

"In a significant proportion of cases seen children or members of their households were subject to further harm," the report added.

Inspectors said a number of problems were caused by failures in the recruitment of social workers, with the local authority frequently forced to rely on agency staff and in some cases "a relatively inexperienced staff group".

The report identified that the area had had problems in retaining the most experienced social workers for a number of years.

It noted that recent improvements in salaries had made the area a more attractive proposition for experienced staff, but that the impact of those changes were "yet to be seen".

Problems not addressed

There was some praise in the report, however, for services offered to children in care, including those looked after by foster families.

It found that the overall effectiveness of services for Walsall's almost 500 looked-after children was adequate, with some areas, such as their health, rated as good.

In terms of capacity to improve, the report rated Walsall Children's Services again as inadequate and noted that problems identified in 2010 had yet to be addressed.

The report also criticised West Midlands Police, saying information supplied by the force was not always sufficient to allow other agencies to respond effectively.

Det Ch Insp Jane Parry said ensuring the safety of those at risk was the force's "absolute priority".

Ms Parry, crime manager for child abuse investigation in the Black Country, said an "immediate review" would be carried out of its policies.

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