All posts tagged 'children-at-risk'

Why Kent is right to demand action over councils placing vulnerable children in county. Plus: Under the bonnet of KCC's new cars policy

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, June 14 2012

There are few things that councils do that are more important than the task of safeguarding vulnerable children.

Yet it can appear that decisions taken by social services authorities are not always ones that have the welfare of the child as the sole concern.

Not for the first time, Kent County Council is highlighting the practice of some councils to send children into the county to be looked after. It is an issue KCC has been trying to bang heads together on for years yet, for all its efforts, nothing has materially changed.

Far from home: how councils from Wales and Scotland and London are placing vulnerable children in Kent>>>

That is wrong and the current and previous government must shoulder some of the blame for failing to take any action. But it could be that things are about to change. Why? 

One reason is the publicity surrounding the sex grooming trial in Rochdale, that involved the deeply distressing exploitation of underage vulnerable girls, one of whom was in care. As a result of that trial and the convictions, the leader of Rochdale council said recently he was unable to guarantee the welfare of children at risk in care homes because so many were outside the area and had been placed in them by other councils.

Kent county council has invoked Rochdale in its latest plea for something to be done, as have headteachers in Thanet who have issued a stark warning that Kent 'could be the next Rochdale.'

Scaremongering? Not really, when you look at the data and consider the challenges facing parts of east Kent in dealing with desperate levels of social deprivation and hardship.

Councils - particularly London boroughs - are making decisions based as much on their budget books as they are on children's welfare. They cast around and see east Kent as a cheaper alternative. Decisions are made that satisfy the bean counters.

That can never be right and if the government is to heed the warnings, it must act quickly and take up some of KCC's recommendations.

If councils simply ignore voluntary agreements about placements, the solution is for them to be compelled to do so through law.

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County councillors have finally agreed a new policy and rules about when our democratically-elected representatives at County Hall can use chauffeur-driven cars.

One not-so-subtle change to the policy, as I predicted, is that the word "chauffeur" no longer appears in the policy document. Instead, the council refers to "county cars".

On whether councillors can avail themselves of chauffeur-driven cars, sorry "county cars" - to get them from home to County Hall, there is a new clause.

This states that such travel should be regarded "as an exception to normal travelling arrangements for all members" and only authorised in specific circumstances.

And what are these specific circumstances? "To drive the chairman, leader or deputy leader of the county council or their spouse/partner or other guest from home and back for the purposes of attending formal meetings or engagements that [they] are required to attend on behalf of KCC as part of their official duties."

This is interesting as it comes against the background of an investigation by HRMC examining whether the use of KCC cars to and from home to County Hall could constitute a taxable benefit.

The investigation has not, so far as I'm aware, determined the matter.

Another clause permits states that where the chairman, vice chairman, leader or cabinet members wish to combine official council journeys with "journeys of a private nature" they may do so - by arranging for the services of a KCC driver to be provided to "drive their own cars."  Any costs will have to be met by the councillor concerned.

How much? In each case, it will be "based on a formula to be determined on each occasion by the Section 151 officer."

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Categories: Councils | Politics

Better news for Kent's most vulnerable children

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, November 9 2011

There is, finally, some good news for children who are among the county's most vulnerable.

Vulnerable childrens' services showing improvements>>>

A year after the county council was stung by a highly critical report by Ofsted which labelled virtually all aspects of its childrens' services as inadequate, inspectors have been back - and have concluded that things are getting better.

At the time of the original critical report, KCC was adamant that it would turn things around and rectify what were truly damning shortcomings which, it transpired, had left thousands of children at risk without a dedicated social worker.

It is too early to say that it has done everything that is needed - Ofsted makes some valid points about the fact that analysis of risk assessments is too variable and the timeliness of core assessments remains low.

But the authority has undeniably made significant progress in turning around the failing services and it would be churlish to deny otherwise. Of course, questions remain about how things have descended into such a sorry state without the politicians being aware but I suspect we will never get a clear answer to that.

The challenge now is not just how KCC can sustain those improvements but how it can develop preventative services which means fewer children get to the stage where they are deemed to be at risk.

In Cllr Jenny Whittle, the cabinet member for specialist childrens' services, KCC has someone who is genuinely committed to sorting out the mess and has successfully overseen a potential political banana skin that might have tripped up others.

But it will come at a cost. The council has had to plough millions of pounds into measures to address the crisis, creating an £8m pressure on its budget.

It has to address that at the same time as facing up to the fact that turning off the investment tap now risks reversing the progress it has made to date.

That is a real danger at a time when KCC will have to trim its overall spending by £65m next year.

If the recently-defeated leadership contender Keith Ferrin is to be believed: "We have to make the system work properly and that will require more investment than we have made so far."

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I have been taken to task by KCC cabinet member for finance, Cllr John Simmonds, over my recent blog on the recovery of the £50m it had on deposit in former Icelandic banks.

He has written to say he feels the content was misleading. You can read his take here.

John Simmonds.doc (28.00 kb)

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Children at risk: how Kent has let them down

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, November 19 2010

There are times when the word "damning" is inappropriately used by journalists but Ofsted's report into the state of services provided to Kent's most vulnerable children is one occasion when it is fully justified.

Read Ofsted's report here

The word "inadequate" crops up an uncomfortable number of times in Ofsted's highly critical report and whatever way you look at it, inspectors have uncovered a pretty lamentable state of affairs. No wonder the powers that be moved swiftly and issued a public apology for letting children in care down. (It's also the kind of report where you might expect heads to roll but none have just yet.)

The most worrying aspect is that Ofsted is clearly concerned that the prospects of things improving are pretty slim, labelling the capacity for KCC and its partners to make things better as "inadequate." In other words, Ofsted doesn't like what it has seen about the abilities of those in charge to address a whole series of shortcomings.

I've often heard it said that KCC has become, over the years, adept at filling in self-assessment forms that give every impression that all is  hunky-dory when inspectors come calling. In the past, I gather that it selected the case files for Ofsted to examine but there are now different - and better - arrangements that mean Ofsted picks out what it wants to see. This may be one reason why Kent has come out so badly.

Perhaps the most telling part of the report is the passage that states that KCC and its partners had considerable evidence over the last two years that problems were coming but nothing was being done to address it.

Of course, there are particular issues for the county - especially the on-going problem of children being placed in coastal towns by London boroughs. But you could argue that should have made KCC and other agencies more attuned to the issues.

The irony is that KCC will now be looking at getting outside help to turn things around. A few years ago, the authority stepped in to help Swindon when its social services department was unravelling. It was hailed a great success at the time.

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At least county council leader Paul Carter did not try to shirk the job of responding to Ofsted's findings, holding  a series of press briefings to give his account of what had gone wrong. Others might have tried to fob the job on to someone else but commendably, he did not.  

 

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Categories: Education | Local Politics | Politics | Public Sector

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