Troubled council failing to keep children safe, report finds

A troubled council is “failing to keep children safe”, a report has concluded.

Northamptonshire County Council’s children’s social care services has a “range of significant weaknesses” according to an Ofsted inspection report released on Monday.

Inspectors found that vulnerable children in the region were “living in unregulated placements that are unsafe and unsuitable” – with some being “left in harmful situations for too long”.

The inspection findings follow a damning review by the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB) released last month which said there were “lost opportunities” leading up to the murders of two-year-old Dylan Tiffin-Brown and one-year-old Evelyn-Rose Muggleton.

Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board review
Evelyn-Rose Muggleton was killed by her mother’s boyfriend Ryan Coleman (Northamptonshire Police)

The council said it was deeply ashamed and apologised to the families of the two young children – admitting they “let the child down” in each case.

Dylan’s father Raphael Kennedy, 31, and Evelyn-Rose’s mother’s boyfriend Ryan Coleman, 23, were both jailed for life for the youngsters’ murders after Dylan’s death in Northampton and Evelyn-Rose’s in Kettering in December 2017 and April last year.

The latest Ofsted inspection has suggested the council needs to improve in 16 areas – including its quality of management decision-making, response to risk in relation to long-standing concerns of chronic neglect, and the response to children at risk of exploitation.

Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board review
Raphael Kennedy (Northamptonshire Police/PA)

Out of the four areas assessed, inspectors graded three as inadequate, while in one, “the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families” was graded as requiring improvement.

The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, as well as the overall effectiveness of the services were graded inadequate.

In the report, the Government watchdog said: “Northamptonshire’s children’s services are failing to keep children safe.

Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board review
Ryan Coleman (Northamptonshire Police/PA)

“While some progress has been made since the Ofsted focused visit in October 2018, there remains a range of significant weaknesses in services whose effectiveness is central to protecting children.

“There are also highly vulnerable children in care who are living in unregulated placements that are unsafe and unsuitable.”

The report continued: “A small cohort of care leavers are vulnerable and homeless, and services have failed to prevent these young people from remaining in unsuitable and unsafe circumstances.

“The quality of support for vulnerable children in Northamptonshire has declined since the last full inspection in 2016.

“Northamptonshire has experienced a period of significant instability at senior leadership level for both the council and within children’s services.”

Responding to the report, Director of Children’s Services Sally Hodges said: “We accept the findings of this Ofsted inspection report entirely.

“We recognise the failings that inspectors have highlighted and equally have a determination to build on the signs of progress they have identified.

“We welcome the report’s finding that there has been clear progress and improvements made since the focused visit last October.

“We are also pleased they recognise that we now have in place the right plans to improve our services.

“The leadership team is determined to do just that as recognised in the report. Children in Northamptonshire deserve nothing less.”

Cabinet member for Children Services Fiona Baker said: “It is regrettable that our services overall have been graded as inadequate but it is a grading we agree with and we are determined to tackle the weaknesses identified.”

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