SOME of the district’s most vulnerable children are still at risk from sexual exploitation due to failings within West Berkshire Council’s children’s services, according to a new report.
The report comes almost two years after Ofsted rated the local authority's services for children as ‘inadequate’.
During an inspection in December, Ofsted inspectors said that the service had made marked improvements since 2015, but highlighted failings which meant in some cases the risk of sexual exploitation was not reduced quickly enough.
Inspectors were also critical of the follow-up process when children go missing, saying "return home interviews" are not always carried out and thus there is no understanding of the child’s experience, or what action has been taken to ensure that the child has been safeguarded effectively.
However, despite the failings the report praised West Berkshire Council’s response to the damning inspection in 2015 in which the local authority was heavily criticised for its reliance on agency staff.
The report says that a focus on recruiting and retaining permanent social workers has led to “positive improvements” to West Berkshire Council’s services for children, while also praising the management and leadership.
Inspectors said the council’s recruitment and retention campaign meant that fewer children are experiencing changes of social worker as a result, while also saying the majority of assessments were “thorough”.
The report also said social workers were “positive about working in West Berkshire”.
West Berkshire's executive member for children and young people, Lynne Doherty, said: "This is impressive progress by an impressive team who are driven to achieve and improve this essential service.
“The recruitment and retention campaign is just one aspect of the ongoing work that has had a positive impact that is being felt and seen right across our children and family services.
“This encouraging Ofsted statement confirms that we are already a fair way along the right tracks. We are encouraged by this confirmation and committed to continuing this improvement journey right to the end of the road and across the whole of this service.
“We are working with the strength of a highly capable collective who have the ability to make children's services in West Berkshire outstanding and reduce risk to children."
Corporate director for communities at West Berkshire Council, Rachael Wardell, added: "We are very pleased that Ofsted recognised what a positive place West Berkshire is for social workers to practise.
“Our social workers are supported and challenged, their caseloads are manageable and their supervision is regular and reflective. We know that this makes West Berkshire good place to work and above all to keep children safe."