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By Benjamin Roberts-Haslam

Sefton Council's children's services are being placed under review after an Ofsted report was published earlier this week that outlined the below standard children's services offered by the council.

Following a joint area inspection in September 2019 and a focused visit in March 2021, it was noted there were weaknesses in child protection practices and management oversight. The report claims "the council and senior leaders have not sufficiently understood these failures or taken the necessary actions to improve services for children".

The report, based on findings between February 21 and March 4, noted a number of areas where children's services needed improvement but two points noted the lack of planning on response. The report said: "The response to child sexual and criminal exploitation is not consistently effective and does not always reduce risks to children. Action is taken to manage immediate risks, but social work support is not sufficiently proactive in connecting, understanding and supporting children in the longer term to be safer.

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"The response to children who go missing from home and care is weak. Return home interviews are not always offered, even when children are constantly going missing from care. When interviews take place, they lack depth to understand risks to inform planning to keep children safe.

"When allegations are made against professionals working with children, the response is not timely. There are delays in following up referrals and organising strategy meetings to secure children’s safety."

It was announced by Minister for Children and Families, Will Quince MP that a commissioner for children’s services will be appointed to Sefton and will conduct a review on the services. The review will seek to decide whether Sefton Council has the “capacity and capability to secure rapid and sustainable improvements”, or whether the department should be taken out of Sefton Council’s control.

In response to the announcement that there will be a review, Martin Birch, Director of Children’s Services and Education at Sefton Council said: “We welcome the appointment of a commissioner, and appreciate the support and challenge that this role will bring.

“Since the Ofsted inspection was carried out, we have already started to work on the feedback in the report, and are developing an improvement action plan which will be published late Summer this year. We understand that the Commissioner will review our plans and capacity to improve and will work alongside the DfE Advisor who has been in place since July 2021.

“The next step will be to continue working with our Improvement Board and support from the Department of Education (DfE) to deliver our action plan to address the recommendations made. The DfE are supporting the council with resources and advisors, and a review of our capacity will be undertaken by the DfE during 2022.

“Of course, there is still much work to, but we are confident that with our committed workforce, and the significant financial investment that the Council has recently committed to Children’s Services, our ambitious plans can be delivered, and improvements made at pace. We are hopeful that the commissioner will see a marked improvement in the delivery of our services each time they visit.”

Damien Moore MP said: " I am calling call on Cllr Ian Maher, Leader of Sefton Council through now two terrible Ofsted reports, to resign, in addition to Cllr Mhairi Doyle, Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Services, who was directly responsible for overseeing change but has instead presided over this shocking failure. This harmful situation is nothing short of a scandal, and it is Southport’s young people who are paying the price.”

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Dive Deeper:
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One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
'Widespread failures' found across council's children's services
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Calls for more bridges as Gaol Ferry Bridge set to close for half a year
Starting from next month Gaol Ferry Bridge will be closed for at least half a year
Get all your news in one place