More than half of councils in England are failing to protect the nation's most vulnerable children, according to a damning report by Ofsted.
The schools inspector found that 20 of England's 152 local authorities have "inadequate" safeguarding measures in place to protect children at risk of abuse or neglect.
One in seven local authorities were classed as "unacceptably poor" and 86 - more than half - were deemed to be "less than good".
ITV News correspondent Paul Davies reports:
The findings come as sobering news after a succession of high profile child abuse cases in which local agencies failed to intervene.
In its first stand-alone social care annual report, Ofsted emphasised the need for "strong and stable leadership" to improve services.
It found that many "basic acceptable practices" were not in place in the weakest councils, and some authorities were criticised for poor coordination with health workers, police and schools.
Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw called on the Government to review the role of safeguarding boards - which are made up of key agencies such as police, probation, youth justice, health, education and social care workers.
– sir michael wilshaw
Too often, inspectors arrive unannounced in councils only to see child protection that is manifestly and palpably weak.
Typically, these are the councils where case files of individual children demonstrate inadequate intervention; where referral thresholds are loosely defined, and where safeguarding boards aren't worth the name.
He also called for "better joined-up thinking" across local government after he raised concerns that betting shops and fast food outlets do not help troubled families.
Sir Michael singled out Birmingham City Council, which has now failed on seven inspection judgements, for criticism.
He said its record on child protection was a "national disgrace" and implied that it may better protect children if it was broken up: "If better governance means breaking it up so that children are better protected, then that's what needs to happen."
– sir michael wilshaw
Why is it that nearly a third of children in the city live in households on low incomes? Why is it that infant mortality is almost twice the national average, worse than in Cuba and on a par with Latvia and Chile?
They must surely be linked to the evidenced failure of corporate governance on a grand scale - governance that has failed to grasp the nettle over many years and which has relegated our second city to fourth division for children's services. These are shocking statistics and a national disgrace.
A Birmingham City Council spokesman acknowledged there was a "long-standing problem" but implied that Ofsted should provide solutions instead of "further diagnosis".
The report highlights that across England:
- 700,000 children live in a home with an alcoholic parent
- 100,000 have parents who are being treated for a hard drug addiction
- 130,000 live in domestically violent homes
- 17,000 live with a parent who has a severe or enduring mental illness