How Solihull Council is failing children after damning Ofsted report rates services 'inadequate'

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An inspector's report into children's services at Solihull Council has found "serious and widespread failings" in its care which has caused 'significant harm' to some children.

It said services to children and families since the last inspection in 2019 had "significantly declined".

The damning report from Ofsted rated children's services at the council as Inadequate in all areas - the lowest grading possible:

  • The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families - Inadequate

  • The experience and progress of children who need help and protection - Inadequate

  • The experience and progress of children in care and care leavers - Inadequate

  • Overall effectiveness - Inadequate

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What did inspectors find?

Inspectors said children in Solihull are not getting the help they need at the right time. Staff and management was deemed "too slow" at responding, which had led to some children experiencing "significant harm".

Some children were being left at risk of harm due to various factors, including a lack of capacity in the out of hours service, vulnerable children waiting too long to be seen by a social worker and a delay in meetings being held when risks to children escalate.

The report stated the early help offer is underdeveloped and under-resourced by all partners, with a lack of services available to address domestic abuse, substance misuse and mental health. For some children, concerns and harm escalate, requiring statutoryintervention.

Plans for children, including those for disabled children, are mostly poor.

They lack clarity about who will be doing what, and by when. Parents can struggle to understand what they need to do to improve their children’s circumstances because if this and children’s plans are closed without any evidence that sustainable progress has been achieved, the report said.

There is a high turnover of staff and unallocated cases meaning many childrenexperience frequent changes of social worker or do not have an allocated worker. This inhibits their ability to form stable, trusting and meaningful relationships witha consistent worker and this contributes to delay in improving children’scircumstances.

They said children in care are not being safeguarded effectively and that there was a lack of urgency and ambition for children to be in a permanent and stable home.

Children are not always matched appropriately with foster carers and they may not be supported with trauma from early childhood experiences, along with considerable delays in accessing mental health support.

However, the report outlines that the majority of children living in stable long-term foster home make good progress and are encouraged to pursue their interests and hobbies,leading to an increased sense of achievement and are supported in their education by committed carers.

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How does Solihull Council need to improve?

Inspectors highlighted the urgency to improve timeliness and quality of decision making when the council receives a concern about a child.

It also found the following areas for improvement:

  • The quality of practice for all children including assessments and visits to identify risk and respond to it.

  • The stability of the social care workforce so that children don't have their social care worker changed as much.

  • Partnership arrangements to enable effective working together to both protectand support children.

  • Permanence planning, to ensure that the full range of permanence options areachieved in a timely way for all children in care.

  • The impact of independent reviewing officers to ensure that children’s plans areprogressed, that drift and delay is challenged, and that escalation is effective.

  • Corporate parenting responsibility for children in care and care leavers, includingconsultation and partnership with the children in care group, OVOS (Our Voice,Our Services), to ensure that this is prioritised and embedded across the counciland all partners.

  • Timeliness of safeguarding checks for children in private fostering placements.

  • Senior leaders’ recognition, understanding and ability to address the quality ofsocial work practice, through an accurate evaluation of performance informationand implementation of an effective quality assurance framework, and a credibleand resourced improvement plan.

What has Solihull Council said?

The leader of Solihull Council, Councillor Ian Courts, says he's very disappointed with the grading received from Ofsted but says the council is fully committed to making the necessary changes to children’s services and understands what it needs to do to improve at greater speed than it already is.

He also said the council will make significantly investing in children's services a priority over the coming years.

He said: “An Improvement Board was put in place last year made up of experts and a good representation from the agencies involved, including in particular the police, NHS, and Council, and improvements have already been made over the last 12 months. However, we are updating our improvement plan to ensure it addresses the things that Ofsted have found.

“A new leadership team is in place in children’s services. We have recruited more social workers to meet the rising demand from people contacting us with concerns about children, and this has provided us with the capacity to ensure there is a dedicated social worker for all the children that are assessed as needing one. This will help us to meet the continuing increase in demands for our services."

Where did it start going wrong for Solihull Council's children's services?

The last inspection of Solihull children’s services in 2019 rate it as requires improvement/good. But since then, inspectors say services to children and families have 'significantly declined'.

In June 2020, Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, 6, was murdered at his home in Solihull by his stepmother, Emma Tustin.

She was jailed for life with a minimum term of 29 years at Coventry Crown Court in December last year. Arthur’s father, Thomas Hughes, 29, was jailed for 21 years after being found guilty of manslaughter.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was murdered at his home in Solihull in 2020.

At a Government safeguarding review following his murder, MPs were told bruising to Arthur's back was 'ignored' by social services.

It found that the bruises were not investigated by the social worker who had seen them, with no follow-up child protection medical.

Committee chair Robert Halfon said that due to “poor staffing and lack of oversight, pivotal moments to save Arthur were missed”, adding that Arthur’s school had tried to refer him to mental health support three times.

Nick Page, chief executive of Solihull Council, said at the time that the council had “failed in our duty of care to Arthur”.

In January 2022, a joint inspection by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, and His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) identified significant weaknesses in the practice of all partners at the ‘front door’ of Solihull Council children's services.

This resulted in areas for priority action, which the report says still has not been fully addressed.

In February 2022, the Department for Education issued a non-statutory improvement notice, providing additional support through improvement grant funding and guidance from a DfE adviser. During this inspection, the DfE issued a statutory notice of improvement, and the Secretary of State appointed a commissioner - Sir Alan Wood - who has been working with Solihull Council since November 2022.