Serious failings in Fenland and East Cambridgeshire as county’s child protection arrangements are branded inadequate

POOR record-keeping means that not all vulnerable children in Cambridgeshire are effectively protected - and there have been significant failings in Fenland and the east of the county.

That is the verdict of a team of seven Ofsted inspectors, who made an unannounced inspection of Cambridgeshire County Council’s child protection arrangements in September.

They found the overall effectiveness to be inadequate. Also inadequate were the effectiveness of the help and protection provided to children, young people, families and carers, and the quality of practice. But the team found leadership and governance adequate.

The inspectors’ report suggests they were quite impressed by social workers’ ability to identify children who might be at risk and by the political and senior managerial commitment to identifying and protecting them.

They pointed to a council audit of 81 cases involving 164 children after serious weaknesses were disclosed in the north of the county.

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“This revealed significant failures to take appropriate action to ensure the safety of 29 children and young people,” Ofsted said. “For these children the council had concluded that the initial response had been inadequate, leading to a concern that the council could not reasonably be assured that some children were safe.”

They added that a further nine closed cases had had to be re-opened.

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The problem, they concluded, lay in poor record-keeping, such as notes of strategy meetings not routinely filed, the outcome of statutory enquiries going unrecorded, and child protection plans that were so long and complex that key actions were not tracked or monitored.

The report said that “there are significant concerns arising from poor practice over recent months in the temporary access team which provided a service to the East Cambridgeshire and Fenland area.

“In this area, a number of children have been left at risk of significant harm and, at the time of the inspection, the risks had still not been adequately assessed.”

Consistency of management oversight had been identified in an earlier inspection in 2009 as being in need of improvement, and the variable quality of recording was pointed out in another unannounced inspection in 2011.

“The council has recognised that its current social work case recording system is not an intuitive tool and sometimes hampers effective social work practice and recording,” the report says, though it acknowledges that the council is currently retendering the contract for the system.

It adds that child protection procedures were not always complied with: “As a result some vulnerable children are receiving ineffective help, and some children known to the council are not being effectively protected.”

It also says that child protection plans had too many actions and were so long that social workers had begun “translating some of the key issues from the plan into a word document to make them easier to read by parents.”

Yet much of the report, which does not cover children after they have been taken into local authority, is very positive about social workers’ effectiveness and commitment at political and chief executive level.

A council spokesman said work had already started to address the weaknesses, and many of the issues raised were already being tackled before the inspectors arrived.

“We know the children are safe,” he insisted. “But we know our recording can’t prove it.”

Cllr David Brown, Cambridgeshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services said: “The findings reflect why we are in the process of making fundamental changes to how children’s social care is delivered. Practice and recording have been too inconsistent and this will be improved by the new ways of working that are being introduced.

“The inspectors reported that they could see the positive difference that these changes are already making.”

He added: “There’s a clear determination to get it right. [The shortcomings identified by Ofsted] will not happen in the future.”

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