Targets ‘to blame for care failings’

EFFORTS to improve children’s services in Calderdale were hampered by prioritising targets rather than the quality of service.

That was a major finding by local authority experts who reviewed the council’s care of young people in the region.

The news comes after a blizzard of headlines about management turmoil in Calderdale Council’s children’s care services.

While progress had been made in getting the basics right and children were now safer, a focus on improvement plan targets had resulted in a lack of strategic vision, ambition, and a shared understanding of what Calderdale wants to achieve for children.

Staff shortages and inexperience also needed tackling and while trust among staff was fragile it was now improving.

The experts said an improvement board – set up after a critical Ofsted report – focused closely on 20 targets highlighted by Ofsted. All the points had been addressed “but a wider support structure would make for a better-led system,” said the findings.

“Above all, there is a need for sustained and visible leadership within the council.”

A major plus point was that at the time of the assessment there were no unallocated cases when a year ago there were 400. Now, pace of change needed to be accelerated through a channelled programme.

“Much of what the peer challenge team came across described the process of the decision making rather than the outcomes they were seeking.

“Some areas are currently not up to the necessary standard.

“There were cases identified of fostering households with CRB checks not updated or undertaken for wider members of the family.”

The scrutiny function of the service also needed to provide sharper focus on activity and the Calderdale Safeguarding Children Board was seen as a strength.

But looked-after children were not getting a good deal, with many placed outside the borough, which is exacerbated with the low level of recruitment of foster parents – just one in the last year.

“The focus has been on the system and process rather than the outcome for the child.”

A lack of continuity of socal workers also impacted on children with one family having seven social workers over a three-year period.

While improvement work of the council and the CSCB had been intense over the past year, although somewhat slow, the issues raised meant that improvement remained fragile, according to the review group