The level of care towards Oxfordshire’s most vulnerable children successfully absorbed financial cuts and a surge in demand, a watchdog has said.
An Ofsted inspection concluded that Oxfordshire County Council’s children’s services coped well despite the challenges of declining budgets and oversubscription.
Inspector Donna Marriott said pressures had resulted in a decline in service quality, but this has since been reversed with ‘rigorous’ leadership.
The vast majority of children are being well looked-after, although the council has agreed with the report that improving the help and protection needs of children is now the top priority.
The report said: “In 2015–16 a significant rise in demand across all areas of the service, combined with a reduction in resources as part of council-wide efficiency savings, led to a decline in the quality of some services, particularly for those children in need of help and protection.
“Senior leaders have taken rigorous action to respond to this deterioration.
“Significant additional financial investment, combined with a large-scale restructure in 2017, has led to an improved early help service, increased capacity in frontline staffing and an enhanced service for children in care.”
However, the education and childcare regulator said OCC must give quicker support for children suffering neglect.
The report added: “A small minority of children remain living in unsatisfactory situations for too long.
“A small minority of children experience drift and delay in achieving permanence.”
The inspection, which took place in April, also highlighted how delays in finding care placements for older children meant some 17-year-olds were ‘unsuitably’ temporarily put up in bed and breakfasts.
Ofsted judged the council as ‘good’ in three of four areas of assessment and ‘good’ overall, but ‘requires improvement’ for ‘experiences and progress of children who need help and protection’. It was judged ‘good’ in all areas when last inspected
The number of children in care in Oxfordshire rose from 500 in 2015 to 700 in 2018.
Steve Harrod, OCC’s cabinet member for children and family services, said: “Our social workers and other staff work incredibly hard to keep children safe and help them get the best possible start in life.”