Berkshire

Wokingham children's services 'getting worse'

A children's services department has been criticised for a "deterioration in the quality, timeliness and delivery of services".

Ofsted has sent a damning letter to Wokingham Borough Council following a visit in October.

The department saw a huge increase in demand for its services over the last year-and-a-half, as well as instability in the top jobs of children's services.

The Director of Children's Services said the report was "not easy reading".

Carol Cammiss, who started running the department just eight days before the letter was received and was not in post when Ofsted visited, said: "It did not tell us anything we did not already know.

"We were very open with them - we weren't defensive in any way.

"The letter is a bit more harsh than the actual feedback we got. We are satisfied that this is a true reflection of where we are."

'Making a difference'

The council's children's services has seen a 246% increase in the demand for child protection services from March 2017 to September 2018.

Overall, Ms Cammiss said she was "quite pleased with the outcome" of the report, as the department had received no recommendations of priority action, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

The letter from the inspector read: "Since... 2017, there has been a marked deterioration in the quality, timeliness and delivery of services to children, with increased caseloads in children's social care and early help."

Ofsted's letter noted that "assertive action" had led "to positive changes" in the department, but added that the council's multi-action safeguarding hub was "not efficient as it could be" and more engagement was needed with police to ensure the service worked better.

It was also claimed that some families were being drawn into the child protection programme when it was not required.

The report stated that while practices could be improved for some services, no children under the council's supervision were found to be unsafe.

Councillor Pauline Heliar-Symons, the executive member for children's services, said: "The report said no children were found to be unsafe, which is of course what the department is all about.

"This was heartening for the staff as they are making a difference in the children's lives."

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