There are “worrying signs” that Croydon Council’s financial crisis is having an impact on the borough’s most vulnerable children – Ofsted say.

Fears that cuts are affecting children’s service’s have been raised by an Ofsted inspector who visited the borough over two days in June.

The council’s children’s services department was rated “inadequate” in 2017 but in March 2020 it  had turned things around and was rated “good” by Ofsted.

Ofsted inspector Brenda McLaughlin said that early help services are being impacted – this is help given to children and families experience problems including domestic violence, school exclusion, mental health problems and ‘low level’ neglect, a report published on Monday (July 26) said.

She wrote: “Early help services are becoming stretched as the impact of financial constraints takes hold.

“Senior leaders are actively working to limit the impact of the savings that they are required to make on frontline services, but all teams will be expected to absorb additional work previously handled by other services.”

The report added that there have been delays in the out of hours service which provides urgent support for vulnerable children.

The inspector said: “Unacceptable delay in responding to some safeguarding referrals out of hours by the emergency duty team means that some children do not receive timely help and protection.”

But she found that social workers in the department have good relationships with children with more face-to-face meetings than before, including continuing throughout the pandemic for the most vulnerable children.

Maria Gatland, shadow cabinet member for children, young people and learning, said: “There are some worrying signs probably to do with the financial situation that the council is in.

“The mismanagement of the finances has led to this and will lead to a poorer service for our children.

“I would like to congratulate the staff. Staff are leaving every day and agency staff are plugging the gap so it is a lot of pressure for them to take.”

The report also found that staff morale is good with several agency staff “keen to pursue permanent contracts as they feel well supported”.

A spokesperson for Croydon Council said: “Despite the unprecedented challenges of the past 18 months, inspectors have found that when children and families are referred to us for help, in most cases we are taking swift and appropriate action to keep them safe.

“We are pleased that inspectors have noted their ‘commitment, professionalism and determination’ to do the right thing for children, and it’s encouraging to hear that our staff feel supported and morale is good.

“Ofsted has identified some areas for improvement and we will be working with our partners to address these as a priority.”