A year before Croydon’s Children’s Social Services department was found to be Inadequate by Ofsted and a government commissioner appointed to oversee it, neighbouring Bromley’s department was judged to be failing in a similar way. A few weeks ago Bromley had their first full inspection since their failure and have not just come out of intervention, they’ve been found to be Good and with Outstanding leadership. So what are the prospects for Croydon, asks Cllr Tim Pollard, leader of Croydon Conservatives?
When you fail an Ofsted inspection in this way, a number of things happen. You are required to set up an Improvement Board to focus on remedying the areas Ofsted had concerns about. A government Commissioner is appointed to oversee progress. You often have to agree to be supported by another authority reckoned to be more capable: in Croydon’s case this is Camden. And you get regular revisits by Ofsted as they seek evidence of whether change is occurring or not and whether the pace of change is acceptable. Normally you get around seven of these monitoring visits before your next full inspection, each of which results in a published report.
So if Bromley has progressed so far, it is interesting to look back at Croydon’s latest monitoring report (the fourth) and compare that with Bromley’s equivalent report. You can download Croydon’s report here and Bromley’s here.*
The difference is striking. Croydon’s report opens its findings by saying that ‘Too many children in care in Croydon experience delay in having permanency secured for them. Most children who have been in care for more than a year are well settled in suitable placements, but there is a lack of urgency in ensuring that these placements are formally matched. There is insufficient understanding of the emotional impact that such delay will have on children, and senior leaders need to tackle this legacy of drift for children with additional pace. Tracking systems are in place, but they have not been used effectively to drive improvements for all of the children who are waiting to be permanently matched.’
Depressingly, it goes on to repeatedly talk about lack of urgency and delay, of meetings being slow to be set up, of things taking too long, of opportunities being missed. According to the report the workforce continues to be demoralised, systems continue to make their lives difficult and many teams still do not have permanent managers and the quality of managers’ input is still variable in quality.
The report concludes ‘In summary, progress has been made, but this is not yet having the required outcome and impact for all children in care’.
There are seventeen negative comments, many still strongly critical, in Croydon’s report. In most cases these are the same criticisms which have been levelled at Croydon since the initial inspection.
Now let’s look at Bromley’s equivalent report.
The findings open with this: ‘The local authority is making steady progress towards ensuring that it makes timely and appropriate decisions in order to achieve permanent placements for children who cannot live with their birth families. The systems and processes in place provide effective oversight of the progression and timeliness of plans. Oversight occurs through regular permanency planning meetings and the early permanence panel, which is chaired by the head of fostering, adoption and resources.’
It goes on to talk of clear pathways leading to timely decisions, identifying carers at the earliest opportunity, managers overseeing progress using comprehensive trackers. Drift and delay is mentioned, but only in the context of observing that the management processes ensure it doesn’t occur!
In terms of the work force, morale seems to be good, caseloads coming down and social workers commenting that they have the time to build positive relationships for the children they are responsible for.
The report concludes ‘The overview of audit findings is increasingly outcome focused, specific and measurable, and is informing priority actions. This is improving practice for children looked after in Bromley.’
So it begs the question ‘If a child you knew was in care, which authority would you rather was providing that care, Croydon or Bromley?’.
Unlike Croydon’s seventeen critical statements, Bromley’s report contains just three. And in each case the criticism is moderated by the acceptance that either something is in the process of being done or that the process error does not really impact on the outcomes for children.
It’s chalk and cheese, isn’t it? Both authorities had a terrible shock on the summers of 2016 and 2017, when they received the judgement of inadequate. Both authorities, to their credit, did not go into denial, but faced up to the challenges their situation provided. Both made changes to their management and processes, but it is quite clear that those changes have been far more effective in Bromley than in Croydon.
One change which has not been made in Croydon is to the political leadership. The Council Leader who oversaw Croydon’s drift into inadequacy is still in place and the councillor responsible for children’s services from 2014 until the ‘fail’ in 2017, Alisa Flemming, is still in place. They didn’t notice that their service was failing and they seem content with the modest progress they have made in improving it.
There are four grades of service in the Ofsted framework: Inadequate, Requires Improvement, Good and Outstanding. Bromley is now Good with Outstanding leadership. I really want to see Croydon pull off the same sort of improvement when it is given its next full inspection, likely to towards the end of this year.
But, tragically for those children and young people in its care, this looks unlikely to be what we get.
You can download marked up copies of the two reports here and here.
*Each monitoring visit focuses on a particular area of practice: Bromley’s fourth visit actually focused on children at risk of sexual exploitation instead of permanence planning, so for the purposes of comparison we have used the report from Bromley’s 5th visit which focuses on the same issues as Croydon’s 4th.