A private company has now been asked to step in in an effort to improve the children’s services department at West Berkshire Council which was branded “inadequate” by Ofsted earlier this year.
Secretary of state for children and families, Edward Timpson MP, served the council an improvement notice on August 26 following the damning report publish in May that cited “serious failures” in the protection of vulnerable children.
The report, which followed an inspection in March, said that: "There are widespread and serious concerns about the protection and assessment of children who are most vulnerable to harm," adding that the pace of change since the last inspection has been "too slow".
The local authority has now been ordered to work together with government appointed advisor Exploring Choices to agree an improvement plan by September 25.
The improvement notice states: “The plan should drive continuous and sustainable improvement in the areas identified in the Ofsted 2015 report and the plan should be grounded in an understanding of the needs of children, young people and families.”
The Plan lists improvements to, among others, leadership, quality and delivery, social work, services to children in need of help and protection and services to children looked after and care leavers.
The council will have to update the advisor regularly and must provide reports and access to performance data, staff reviews and case files.
Failure to comply could result in further state intervention in the council’s operations.
West Berkshire Council said that it had already done much to take action to improve and that the decision to not appoint an improvement board to oversee the council’s work “has shown confidence in the council’s ability to improve with only minimum intervention.”
Executive Member for Children’s Services Lynne Doherty said: “The council was quick to acknowledge the areas for improvement, and action already underway included our innovative social worker academy and a recruitment and retention strategy which OFSTED described as ‘ambitious and creative’.
“The plan will continue that work and help us introduce some longer-term improvements which will bring stability to the team and strengthen the quality of their practice.
“It’s hard to be told that your performance isn’t good enough but we accepted the report’s findings and recognise the steps we need to take to improve things for children and their families. The efforts we’re making will leave us in better shape than we were and we value the involvement of the selected advisors.”
The council added that as part of the plan it would invest £600,000 into Children’s Services for additional training and new staff, run a recruitment campaign to fill vacant positions and provide additional support for social workers to ensure cases were dealt with faster.