Councillor concerned by ‘slow’ progress of children’s services

STALYBRIDGE councillor Liam Billington has voiced his concerns following a further critical report about children’s services in Tameside.

It follows a sixth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged “inadequate” in December 2016. It took place on August 22.

Cllr Liam Billington

Cllr Billington, who serves on Health and Integrated Care which covers children’s services, said:

“For the council to be in special measures for more than two years is unprecedented in my opinion.

“We have reviews every few months, but the outcome from Ofsted is the same that not enough progress has been made.

“Tameside has had two years to put it right and in that time there’s been four different Cabinet members in charge of children’s services.

“It is not good enough and in any other authority you would expect the chief executive and director to resign.”

The latest review was carried out by Shabana Abasi, Her Majesty’s inspector, and Majella Tallack, an Ofsted inspector who reported in too many areas of the service for children looked after “the pace of progress has been slow”.

They added: “The quality of social work practice, supervision and management oversight, and challenge by independent reviewing officers still require significant improvement to ensure practice improves and delivers good outcomes for children looked after.

“Inspectors found some evidence of improving performance in the timelines of statutory

requirements such as reviews, completion of health assessments and personal education plans.”

In their overview, the inspectors report: “It is of significant concern that many of the areas of the service that need improvement for children looked after are the same highlighted in the Ofsted inspection two years ago. Progress has been slow.

“The local authority recognises the need to accelerate progress and improve basic practice.”

The overview added senior managers acknowledged there was little progress made during 2017 to improve services for children looked after.

It continued: “The local authority has taken action to address the pace of improvement and has strengthened the management of the service, although in the short term this has resulted in a period of instability for the service with a team manager, practice managers and a number of social workers leaving.

“Changes in staffing have resulted in an increase in caseloads and a number of children experiencing a change of social worker which has impacted on the quality of care planning for them.
“The difficulty in trying to secure a stable workforce is the local authority’s biggest challenge.

“Strategic leaders recognise this and are making every effort to recruit permanent staff with the relevant skills and experience to support children.

“The focus on recruitment of permanent social workers is now showing some positive results.

“The local authority reported 17 recent appointments and a further 15 shortlisted for interview.

“Despite all the authority’s efforts and incentives, 41 percent of staff are agency workers.”

Cllr Billington, elected to Tameside Council to serve Stalybridge South in May 2018, praised James Thomas, interim director of children’s services, describing him as a “good force for change” but within the authority “there seems to be resistance to change”.

Richard Hancock has just taken over as the new permanent director of children’s services.

Cllr Billington added it is not just children’s services that are a cause for concern.

He continued: “Half the care homes in the borough have been rated as ‘inadequate’.

“I believe there ought to be more focus on care homes as well as adult social care.”

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