A REPORT into how children in care are looked after in Somerset has been branded “sobering reading” and “a wake-up call”.
OFSTED labelled the county council service ‘adequate’ after investigating 80 case files of youngsters with various needs to see how well they are looked after, protected and safeguarded.
The council received 15 ‘adequate’ ratings and one ‘good’, but were ‘inadequate’ in two areas – low numbers of care leavers entering further education, employment or training, and children’s health needs not being assessed promptly on going into care.
OFSTED has called for improvements in the number of young people housed in B&Bs and with drug and alcohol issues.
County Hall chief executive Sheila Wheeler said: “Somerset County Council aspires to so much more than being ‘adequate’ in how we deliver services to children in our care.“Safeguarding and coping with increasing numbers of children coming into our care has been our priority.
“This OFSTED report makes sobering reading, and is a wake-up call to broaden our focus.“Our politicians have made clear their intention to hold officers to account in ensuring a drive towards better outcomes and higher standards for these children.“We’ve taken immediate steps to bring about the improvements necessary and we’re working with our partners to drive through these changes.”Council leader Cllr John Osman (Conservative) has pledged “swift action”, while Cabinet member Cllr Frances Nicholson said the authority “still has some way to go”.
She added: “We’ve identified the issues and set time limits by when improvements must be achieved.”
Lucy Watson, NHS Somerset’s Director of Nursing and Patient Safety, said: “Significant improvements have been made as a result of the clinical leadership of our designated and named professionals to ensure children and young people are safeguarded from harm.“The Primary Care Trust has also noted the recommendations for improvement needed in the health of looked-after children and has taken immediate action to remedy the situation.”
Cllr Gloria Cawood, Shadow Cabinet Member for Children and Families, said Somerset has gone from ‘oustanding’ under the LibDems to “within a whisker of special measures” under the Tories.
She added: “It’s much harder to turn around a service that has dropped in quality, than to keep it up there in the first place.
“I very much hope the Conservatives will be seeking help to address the issues raised in this report from other councils with a better track record than they now have in Somerset.”