The county council has been accused of trying to ‘gloss over’ criticism of its children’s services in an Ofsted report released on Wednesday.
Inspectors spent four weeks last October and November reviewing the West Sussex County Council department and gave it the second lowest rating of ‘requires improvement’.
However a council press release said the report demonstrated how it was making a ‘positive difference to children’s lives’.
Sue Mullins, Labour group leader at WSCC, said the report was ‘not good enough’ and suggested the county council was ‘glossing over’ negative parts of the Ofsted report.
She praised the efforts of staff and the new director, but felt the speed of improvement was moving at a ‘snail’s pace’.
Mrs Mullins said: “It’s not the way to go forward. You should admit you’re failing, we need to do better and this is how we are going to do it and we are willing to fund it.”
She called the high level of care leavers not in education, employment or training, at 38 per cent, an ‘appalling statistic’ and also raised the use of bed and breakfasts to accommodate care leavers as her biggest concerns in the report.
She added: “The officers and staff under the guidance of the new director they have worked very very hard and they have done their best.”
But she pointed out that although the report shows where the council needs to improve so had all the pasts reports.
She continued: “So why were past recommendations not acted on sooner?”
Inspectors found that ‘many of the recommendations from previous inspections have been implemented, with positive results’.
The report added: “Children spoken to by inspectors feel safe and nearly all feel settled where they are living.
“One group of young people made it very clear to inspectors that they all felt that being in care had made a positive difference to their lives, enabling them to be more confident and settled and to progress at school and college.
“The result is that care leavers feel cared for and have someone they know they can rely on. One care leaver reported: ‘nowadays people always ask me how I survived the care system, but I truly believe that I only survived because of the care system’.”
They also found that the council takes decisive and robust action when children are at risk of harm; social workers effectively involve young people in their own safety planning; and looked after children who make the expected progress between Key Stages 1 and 2 have improved significantly.
The report also states that the service’s newly appointed senior leadership team has put in place ‘an ambitious and comprehensive service redesign at pace’; the chief operating officer has a clear understanding of the challenges facing children’s social care and the improvement needed; and the council’s political leaders have ‘strong ambition’ for long lasting improvements and better outcomes for children.
Inspectors said the service ‘requires improvement’, but added: “The plans in place are evidencing progress, and positive impact for children was seen right across the service.”
Suggested areas of improvement included ensuring that managers carefully oversee plans, casework and reviews; being clear about who is responsible for actions; strengthening the quality of child protection decision making; addressing the high number of care leavers who are not in employment, education or training; and stopping the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for care leavers apart from emergencies.
Peter Evans, WSCC’s cabinet member for children – start of life, said: “The report highlights many of our improvements and clearly shows that children we know about are safe.
“There has been a great deal to do, and our social workers and all our children’s services staff and partner organisations have worked tremendously hard to drive through these improvements, and I applaud their achievements.
“The report also shows us where we need to improve, so we will not stop here. We will now turn our attention to addressing every recommendation from Ofsted to ensure our services to children are ‘good’ by the end of this year.”
Avril Wilson, WSCC’s executive director of care, wellbeing & education, said: “The report shows we have made huge improvements in many areas and, most importantly, children in our care feel safe and secure.
“We know we have more to do, and more improvements are needed, but the council knows itself well and already has a comprehensive, quality improvement plan in place.”
Mrs Wilson added: “I would like to thank all of the children, foster parents, adopters and partner organisations who contributed to the inspection process.”
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