Kingston Council’s child protection services have been rated “inadequate” for the second year in a row following a surprise inspection by Ofsted.

But councillors have criticised inspectors for the timing of their visit, and lamented the fact it coincided with the arrest of former leader Derek Osbourne on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children.

The report, published today, commends the borough for taking swift action in the wake of the disastrous 2012 inspection.

Ofsted's second inadequate inspection of Kingston Council's children's services followed a June 2013 surprise visit.pdf

But it said it was too early to tell if many of the improvements were sustainable, given the “legacy” of poor practice previously.

The council is also criticised for delays in referrals “potentially putting children at further risk.”

It was told to speed up recruitment of permanent social workers and develop a better relationship with police regarding children at risk of abuse, harm or sexual exploitation.

Council leader Councillor Liz Green said: "Our staff have worked hard over the last year in a positive and professional manner to put improvement measures in place which are beginning to turn things around.

"We welcome Ofsted’s scrutiny of our rigorous efforts to address the issues and problems we need to in order to return to providing the best possible services for children and young people."

But Councillor Andrea Craig, opposition lead member for children and young people, criticised the timing of the inspection, and urged staff not to lose morale.

The inspection took place in early June, four months earlier than planned and coinciding with Derek Osbourne’s resignation following his arrest on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children.

Coun Craig said: “It is unfortunate Ofsted has come in 11 months after the initial report and not 15 as it had originally said.

“It is unsurprising that this is the outcome given the timing of the visit, compounded by the extremely unfortunate events.

“I think Ofsted had no alternative, from a safeguarding point of view, and that makes me mad because of all the hard work by staff who are all extremely focused on fixing the service.”

Director of children’s services Nick Whitfield said: “I am pleased Ofsted has seen the progress we have made despite the earliness of their revisit.

“We are working hard to provide the highest levels of safeguarding for children and young people and our improvement measures are beginning to have a positive effect.

"There is a lot of work still to be done, though, and a long way to go to get things right again. 

"We are determined to get back to the excellent level of service that young people and their families expect from us.

"We are making good progress but it will take years, not months."

A Department for Education visit in June said the council was further ahead in some areas than expected.

Are safeguarding services for children on the road to recovery?

Kingston Council emphasised the positives, pointing out Ofsted's comments that foundations were in place in many areas including strategic planning, policy implementation and restructuring of services.

It gave the example that a social work team manager now oversees all contacts coming into children's services and said a third team of child protection social workers had now been recruited to ensure timely responses to child protection concerns.

Some of the actions Ofsted has demanded - including bringing in a single point of access - are done or about to be done.

Its demand to see months worth of case files was difficult to show when many of the new social workers had only started a few months before the surprise inspection.

But some glaring problems emerge from the report, not all of the council's making, including problems with police

Positives (from the Ofsted report by lead inspector Sarah Urding)

  • Rapid action has improved safety for children and young people overall.
  • Many examples of good practice
  • Number of child protection conferences have doubled without a loss of timeliness
  • A clear strategic vision is in place
  • Scrutiny and oversight of children's services has been strengthened
  • The Local Safeguarding Board now has a new experienced independent chairman [Deborah Lightfoot - who previously worked as director for Action For Children, and is also chair of the safeguarding board in Harrow. She told the Surrey Comet in April she was passionate about improving vulnerable children's lives].
  • Management have a "relentless focus on improvements
  • 83 out of 96 actions from the Improvement Board had been actioned by May
  • The new lead member - [Councillor Liz Green, now leader, who replaced Patricia Bamford in May] - displays a strong commitment to continued and robust challenge

    Negatives (from the Ofsted report)
  • All three areas of help and protection, quality of practice, and leadership and governance were each rated inadequate, contributing to the final rating
  • Significantly more to do to improve quality of child protection practice
  • In some cases....children and young people are being left in unsatisfactory annd risky circumstances for too long
  • The council is still addressing the past poor social work practice where some case recording is too brief and lacking in detail
  • Lack of continuity in police representation at a senior level on the improvement board with frequent changes in senior police personnel
  • In some cases vital visits to homes to see if children are safe are being delayed because of a lack of police availability, despite attempts by the council to resolve this with the police commissioner [Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe]
  • Short assessment do not include the child being seen, potentially placing the children at further risk, relying on what parents say
  • A lack of permanent staff has led to a high number of agency workers impeding improvement and consistency
  • Missing children procedures, issued in December, are still not fully embedded
  • Social workers sometimes fail to follow up actions after multi-agency risk conferences
  • During the inspection 25 children in need cases were unallocated to a social work for a 48 hour period





What are the facts?
Kingston has a small population in London of 162,000 people with 39,200 children aged 0-19, and 50 schools.

There were 161 children subject to a child protection plan at the time of the inspection - 85 girls, 75 males and one unborn child. They are at risk mostly of neglect (49%), but also emotional (27%) and physical abuse (17%).


There are also 225 families eligible for help through the Government Troubled Families Scheme, families who can be difficult to work with and multiple issues.