Children at Risk: Time to take responsibility
A joint statement from the Barnet Bloggers
“There are widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children and their families in Barnet. Inspectors identified a legacy of widespread poor practice and ongoing systemic failures and services that neither adequately ensure the safety, nor promote the welfare of children and young people”.
Ofsted Inspection Report on Barnet Children’s Service July 2017
Over nearly a decade of scrutiny by Barnet bloggers, we have investigated and reported the seemingly endless sequence of scandals, blunders, and political folly created by Barnet’s Conservative councillors. The incomprehensible tale of the MetPro fiasco, the disgraceful confiscation of travel passes for disabled residents, the cutting of vital respite care for children at Mapledown School, which cares for children with profound disabilities, the illegal CPZ parking charges, are only some of the many examples of administrative incompetence – and worse – that we have pursued.
In all this time, in response to all of these disastrous situations, not one Conservative member has taken responsibility for the failure in services to what are very often the most vulnerable members of our community.
No one could be more vulnerable than a child: especially a child in care, whose well being has become the responsibility of the local authority, standing as a corporate parent.
Yet now we see the emergence of a most damning report from OFSTED, one that slates the provision of care services in Barnet for such children: a report that should shame any local authority, and would – anywhere else but in Barnet.
“The vast majority of care planning is ineffective. There is a lack of focus on measuring progress for children or their outcomes. When there is no progress, this is not re-evaluated or escalated effectively. This leads to drift and delay. This is particularly stark for a significant number of children who are victims of chronic long-term neglect and emotional abuse, who do not have the impact of this risk recognised, responded to or reduced, despite spending long periods subject to child protection planning … ”.
“Young people who go missing from care receive a poor service, because social workers do not find out enough about the risks to them. This means that young people who go missing are not always kept safe enough from dangers, such as gangs or adults sexually exploiting them”.
In any circumstances where there has been proven wrongdoing, or a failure in standards, it is usually the case, in Barnet, that officers are held responsible, and those elected members tasked with the responsibility – and paid generous allowances for those duties –of overseeing the enforcement of their own policies remain distanced from the consequences of their actions. We believe that this is wrong, and that councillors should be held accountable.
In this case, we believe, the fault lies in a serious failure in leadership, oversight and scrutiny by the Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee, chaired by Conservative councillor Reuben Thompstone.
The same committee was responsible for the Mapledown cuts – later reversed, after protests from parents, and a public outcry; and was also the instrument of approval for the devastating programme of cuts to our library service, presented to residents as mere ‘refurbishment’, but which has seen the closure of children’s libraries, and the removal of access for under sixteen year olds from any library operating the newly unstaffed hours.
It seems to us that under this Conservative administration, children are seen not as our most precious asset, but an easy target for cuts, and the lowering of standards meant to ensure their protection, and wellbeing.
In 2014 Tory members approved a cost cutting restructuring of Family Services which has resulted in the use of agency social workers soaring from none in 2013, to £3.05 million per annum in 2016/17.
With the average agency social worker staying just 202 days, there has been a constant turnover of staff, and throughout this period, Children’s Services have been under constant pressure to meet the budget savings forecast.
We believe that pressure on budgets for local social workers responsible for ensuring the safety of young people has lead to the near destruction of the service, and a situation where there are simply not the resources to ensure vulnerable young people are given the life chances they deserve.
This cannot possibly be in the best interests of the children of this borough.
We therefore make the following suggestions:
1. That there must be a full open, transparent, and independent public inquiry into what went wrong.
2. This inquiry must include a forensic audit of all correspondence between the Conservative administration and officers, regarding Children’s Services, to ensure that political interference has not, and cannot in future, prejudice the standard of care.
3. This inquiry should be concluded prior to May 2018, to allow the people of Barnet to pass their own judgement on the administration.
4. We call for the resignation of the Councillor in charge of Children’s Services, Cllr Reuben Thompstone.