Somerset child protection services rated inadequate

Somerset County Council office building
Image caption The council has invested £1.4m in children's services

Child protection services in Somerset have been given the lowest rating of inadequate by Ofsted.

The verdict follows an unannounced inspection by Ofsted inspectors.

Social services was told to review its child protection plans immediately including cases that have been closed in the last three months.

The council described the report as "deeply disappointing" and pledged to make extra funds available for investment in the department.

Slow improvements

Chief executive Sheila Wheeler, said: "We now have the right people in the right place doing the right things.

"Ofsted has recognised our investment in the service and our appointment of a nationally recognised interim director of children's services, Peter Lewis, to steer us through the changes we need to make.

"We do acknowledge that our speed of change has not been fast enough."

She added £1.4m had been invested in children's services for the current year and some improvements had been made already.

Peter Lewis was appointed by the government to oversee changes in the London borough of Haringey in the aftermath of the Baby P scandal.

Currently, there are 300 children and young people subject to child protection plans.

Inspectors found these plans were being closed too soon in some cases.

On the shortcomings in such plans, the report stated: "Very few child protection plans are sufficiently specific.

"They do not give clear indications of what needs to change and by when, and so do not support the monitoring and review of progress by core groups and review child protection conferences.

"As a result, decision-making about reduced risk is not always sound, and some child protection plans have ended too soon."

Senior managers at the Conservative-run council have been told they must all sample the child-in-need work across the county to check risk indicators had not been missed.

Risk indicators can include domestic abuse, or drug and alcohol misuse by the child's parents. It could mean some children will be put back on plans.

Peter Lewis, interim director of children's services, said: "We would hope the evidence is there to support those decisions but our first duty is to the child and to make sure the child is as safe as we can possibly make them."

A number of areas of improvements must be completed within timescales of three and six months following the visits by Ofsted in June and July.

This includes improving the quality of assessments and reducing delays for children and young people who need access to mental health services.

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