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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Ofsted report 'serious & widespread failures' in Rotherham's child protection

Written by The Press Association

Children's services in a town rocked by widespread child sexual exploitation are "inadequate" according to Ofsted.

The schools watchdog's report says: "There are widespread or serious failures that result in children being harmed or at risk of harm."

Ofsted inspected services in Rotherham a month after the publication of the Jay Report, which found in August that more than 1,400 children had been subjected to sexual exploitation in the South Yorkshire town between 1997 and 2013.

Ofsted said today: "The overall judgment is that children's services are inadequate.

"In the delivery of services for looked-after children and care leavers these failures result in the welfare of these children not being safeguarded and promoted.

"Leaders and managers have not been able to demonstrate sufficient understanding of failures and have been ineffective in prioritising, challenging and making improvements."

The report also judged the Local Safeguarding Children Board to be "inadequte".

It said: "The arrangements in place to evaluate the effectiveness of what is done by the authority and board partners to safeguard and promote the welfare of children are inadequate."

The publication of Professor Alexis Jay's report earlier this year, which detailed how children had been raped and trafficked in the town by organised gangs of men on a huge scale, provoked turmoil in the local authority.

Prof Jay said senior councillors and council officials must have known what was going on but did not act.

Council leader Roger Stone resigned immediately after the report was published and he was followed after a storm of criticism by council chief executive Martin Kimber and council director of children's services Joyce Thacker.

South Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright, the Rotherham councillor overseeing children's services between 2005 and 2010, was also forced to step down in the wake of the scandal.

Today's report criticised in particular services aimed at protecting children in need of help, saying: "Serious and widespread failures in child protection work mean that children and young people are not adequately protected."

It said Ofsted inspectors referred 13 cases they had looked at back to the local authority because of "serious issues of concern".

The report said police and social workers still did not work together properly.

It said: "Strategy discussions, including those where children are believed to be at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE), are not compliant with statutory guidance.

"This means that key information held by other agencies may not be taken into account, and potential risks to children may not be considered. There is ineffective working between social workers and police officers."

South Yorkshire Police has also been heavily criticised in the wake of the Jay Report and yesterday the Independent Police Complaints Commission said it was investigating 10 officers over allegations that they failed to deal properly with child sexual exploitation issues in Rotherham.

But also yesterday, Ofsted itself was criticised by MPs over past failures in relation to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

The Communities and Local Government Committee said the watchdog carried out a number of inspections of the council over the period covered by the Jay Report but failed to protect children in the town and will now be called to give evidence to the committee.

Committee chairman Clive Betts said: "Serious questions also need to be asked of Ofsted. Repeated Ofsted inspections in Rotherham failed to lift the lid on the council's shameful inability to tackle child sexual exploitation."

An Ofsted spokesman said in response: "Ofsted welcomes the opportunity to give evidence to the committee. In common with a number of organisations, we accept that past inspections may not have given child sexual exploitation the forensic focus it needed and deserved."

It said it had found Rotherham Council's children's services "indequate" in 2009.

The MP's report claimed that Rotherham is "not an outlier" for abuse and all councils must review their systems for protecting children while government must look again at its guidance.

Today's report criticised the Local Safeguarding Children Board for its response to the Jay Report, saying: "Findings have led to much activity, but this has been ineffectively coordinated, with insufficient integration of effort - the pace of change has been too slow."

Ofsted recognised that new systems had been put in place but said: "Poor practice in relation to CSE indicates the urgent need for these areas to be robustly addressed."

Rotherham Council said it fully accepted the Ofsted report.

Council leader Paul Lakin said: "Keeping children and young people safe remains our highest priority. We are sorry that we have let them down in the past, but we know that apologies simply aren't enough.

"We are determined and committed to addressing all the issues raised in this report, and must demonstrate that we are doing so, if we are to rebuild trust and confidence in our services. The best way to serve children and young people now is to learn from those mistakes and look to the future."

Mr Lakin said: "The appointment of a strong new leadership team - including our newly-appointed director of children's services Ian Thomas - is already helping to secure the change needed to ensure our organisation is fit for purpose. We are seeking to make further interim appointments within Children's Services within the next week."

Jane Parfrement, director of safeguarding children and families, joined the council three months ago, and is currently acting director of children's services pending Mr Thomas arriving full-time in Rotherham in January.

She said: "I am very clear that given the issues in Rotherham we will not achieve everything overnight, change must be comprehensive and sustainable and this will take time.

"However immediate action has been taken to ensure our basic child protection systems are strengthened and an improvement plan is being drafted which will be overseen by an Improvement board to challenge us and ensure we stay on course."

Ms Parfrement said she is working closely with the children's commissioner appointed to work in Rotherham, Malcolm Newsam.

Steve Ashley, independent chair of Rotherham Local Safeguarding Children's Board, said: "I accept the findings of the Ofsted report published today in their entirety: this is a further example of where collectively agencies could have done better for children, young people and families.

"The board partners were already aware of many of the issues raised in the report and are already working hard together to address these.

"Whilst in the report Ofsted have acknowledged the improvements made since my arrival as Independent chair and have reported that our direction of travel is positive, I accept that the pace of change needs to be quickened.

"I am working with board members, the chief executive of the council and the incoming DCS (director of children's services) to review and strengthen our plans for tackling the failings and shortfalls identified by Ofsted and secure the improvements still needed, with renewed pace and vigour."

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