Serious failings not being responded to with sufficient urgency as council rated ‘Inadequate’
Services for Children and Families in Solihull have deteriorated since the death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes in June 2020, having a profound impact on children in the borough, according to a recent report by Ofsted.
Ofsted says that serious failings identified in two reviews last year ‘have not been responded to with sufficient urgency and rigour. Corporate leaders and senior managers have overseen this decline in services to vulnerable children and their families.’
Those earlier reviews were convened following the convictions of six-year-old Arthur’s father, Thomas Hughes, of manslaughter and of his father’s partner, Emma Tustin, for Arthur’s murder. Solihull children’s services had known about Arthur since 2019, when his extended family and school raised concerns.
In a report based on its inspection last November, Ofsted says that an improvement board has streamlined priorities and set up workstreams, but changes have been too slow. Partners on local safeguarding boards are not working together effectively and the self-assessment element in the inspection process is weak and inaccurate.
For a significant time, children’s services were without a stable, experienced senior leadership team. Ofsted also points to ‘significant instability in the workforce, with the loss of large numbers of permanent workers and managers. While there has been financial investment resulting in some success at recruiting agency and interim staff, key services, including the MASH [Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub], assessment teams, the 16-plus team and the care leavers service remain fragile, with an over-reliance on this temporary workforce.’
Across most services, from initial referral onwards, Ofsted says that response times are too slow, and support is inadequate.
Despite these problems, ‘Most workers told inspectors that they like working in Solihull, that they feel well-cared for by their managers, that there is good focus on their well-being and that their caseloads are manageable. However, managers at all levels do not ensure that children benefit from safe and effective social work practice. There is a culture of high support and low challenge which is not benefiting children. Supervision lacks challenge when progress is not being made and is failing to routinely improve outcomes for children. A lack of visible leadership with a clear vision for how children’s services will develop has led to a culture that is failing to place children at the heart of decision-making and practice.’
Responding to the report, Ian Courts, leader of Solihull Council, said,
‘Although we are very disappointed at the grading, we are grateful to the inspection team for the thoroughness and detail put into their work, which will help us to make the necessary improvements.
This Council is fully committed to making the necessary changes to children’s services and we understand what we need to do to improve and realise that we need to do this at greater speed than we are already doing.
‘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.
‘Along with my fellow councillors, we have agreed to continue to invest significantly in children’s services over the coming years, as a priority for the Council.
‘It is fair to say we have been under an unprecedented level of scrutiny over the last 12 months, culminating with the appointment of Sir Alan Wood, the Commissioner appointed by the Secretary of State, who has been working with us since November.
‘We are doing our utmost to support Sir Alan in his review of the leadership across the three safeguarding partners – police, health and local authority – which is necessary to ensure we have the most effective way of securing and sustaining improvement in Solihull. Sir Alan will present his findings to the Secretary of State later this month and outline his recommendations.’
Ofsted: Inspection of Solihull local authority children’s services
£38,223 to £40,221
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