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Boost for Bay children's services

By Herald Express  |  Posted: February 20, 2014

Cllr Ken Pritchard, left, and Richard Williams with the notification Andy Styles TQAS20140213A-001_C

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TORBAY'S hard-pressed children's services have been given a major boost by government.

The service has been taken out of the equivalent of special measures imposed in 2010 after Ofsted inspectors concluded arrangements for safeguarding Torbay children were 'inadequate'.

Now Minister for Children and Families Edward Timpson said Torbay has achieved a 'significant improvement in child protection social work practice'.

The service is now rated 'adequate' overall by Ofsted inspectors after an inspection last year and the improvement notice was removed after a visit by government officials in December, but bosses say they are aiming for more improvements despite the escalating costs of the service.

The minister congratulated councillors, staff and partner organisations, however he said there are still some areas for development and challenges identified by Ofsted, in particular the high number of children currently needing help in Torbay which he said was a 'concern' and will need to be addressed if they are to build a good service.

He welcomed the pledge by mayor Gordon Oliver to continue to prioritise children's safeguarding. At the recent budget meeting Torbay Council earmarked an extra £2million for children's services next year even though it is heading for another overspend this year.

Mr Timpson still has concerns over the length of time it takes to find adoptive parents for children in the Bay.

The council's director of children's services, Richard Williams, said: "We have always said we are committed to long term improvements, not quick fixes, and it is reassuring our progress and the quality of our practice has been recognised by Ofsted."

He said they were now focusing on reaching a 'good' standard.

"We still have our own improvement plan in place, but we have replaced the culture of being a failed authority with one which is improving," he said.

Cllr Ken Pritchard, executive member for children's services, said: "Among the staff there is a sense of enormous enthusiasm and positivity."

Under the improvement notice a government representative met every six weeks with a special improvement board set up in Torbay chaired by childcare specialist Professor Ray Jones. This will no longer meet.

Two years ago the authority had a 46 per cent vacancy rate and had to rely on more expensive agency field social workers. It now has no vacancies and it now has no backlog of cases to be allocated to social workers when it did have 600.

The service says the time it takes to adopt children has reduced considerably compared with three years ago.

Since April 2013 the department has had children adopted more quickly than expected and in the past 12 months 22 children have been adopted. Mr Williams said they were discussing with officials how the government could recognise the progress made.

However, there are currently some 314 children on care child protection plans compared with 180 four years ago and in January alone there was a 25 per cent increase in cases.

Mr Williams said: "We still have high demand and it is increasing and some children have complex issues. Because people now have confidence in the department there is more demand. Our safeguarding hub is handling 25 per cent more cases than this time last year."

The cost of using agency foster staff is one of the biggest expenses, and the department is working hard to recruit and train more local foster families, he said. The council has funded four additional social workers, and proposes to do a complete revamp of the budget and running of the service.

Mr Williams added: "We are being radical. We are looking at how we can change the way the service is delivered, to both improve results for children and young people and reduce the budget. I do believe, in future, the spend will slow down thanks to more effective practices."

Cllr Pritchard said: "We can't control the volume of demand, but we can control the cost for each case. We are also looking at trying to better forecast future demand to become better at budgeting and managing the costs."

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