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Would Baby P have been safer in Surrey?

December 14, 2008 7:26 PM

Surrey can't afford to get it wrong

Sadly, there is little evidence he would. This spring, Surrey failed its Ofsted inspection of safeguarding services for Children, which were inspected during the Joint Area Review. Safeguarding, along with provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, was found to be 'inadequate'.

In answer to a recent question in Council, the Conservative Executive Member admitted that this 'shocked' the Council. "That shock was symptomatic of complacent optimism on the part of the Tory Council, and a failure of performance and data management within the Children's Service", said Diana

Smith, Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Knaphill. "It's hardly surprising the Inspectors also decided Surrey's capacity to improve was 'inadequate'."

The situation is so bad that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families issued a 'Notice to Improve'. If Surrey County Council doesn't meet the standards set out, central government may impose its own arrangements. As was commented recently at the Children and Families Select Committee, "the only show in town now is the Improvement Notice".

The Improvement Notice lists a number of 'indicators' that the Secretary of State will use to test whether the changes being made are doing enough. One example is the number of initial assessments being carried out within 7 working days of a referral. The Notice says this must reach 65% by the end of March 2009, and 77% a year after that. But the most recent information brought to the Select Committee showed it dropping between the first and second quarters of this year to 44%.

Other problems are failures to carry out Criminal Record Bureau checks; high levels of vacancies, mostly covered by locums; and uneven workloads. Some social workers carry as many as 30 cases while others are at 9. Preventative services, to keep children out of the care system, are inadequate.

A cross-party Task Group has been set up to track the Post Inspection Action Plan. Diana Smith is the Liberal Democrat representative. "Over the last years the Conservatives have failed to act effectively on the performance indicators that should have shown up poor practice, and made disastrous cuts to preventive services in short-sighted cost-cutting exercises," she said. "And all the time challenges are increasing. More children are coming into the care system, and there are increases in the number children of with Special Educational Needs. Surrey can't afford to get it wrong again."