CHILD protection in the county is back from the brink two years after being
branded “inadequate” by Ofsted.

This week Ofsted said Herefordshire Council’s safeguarding service still needs improvement – but there are now no widespread or serious failures that put children at risk.

Another “inadequate” verdict could have seen Whitehall directly intervening in the running of the service.

The Ofsted report reveals that agency social workers were brought in ahead of the latest inspection to cut a case work backlog, with child neglect a major factor in many of the cases examined.

Though the “inadequate” rating the service has been working under since 2012 is gone, the report says safeguarding is not yet delivering “good” protection and help.

As such, Ofsted says all areas – with the exception of adoption – still require improvement, with progress acknowledged as “slow” and “very recent.”

Too many of the areas for development identified in 2012 continue to require improvement, the report says.

Both the council and Ofsted recognise that the service still has some way to
go to get a “good” rating by 2016.

Jo Davidson, director of children’s wellbeing, said the identified improvements were a “strong staging post” towards that target.

Councillor Jeremy Millar, cabinet member for children’s wellbeing, said he
was “reassured” that no children being cared for in the county are at risk of

As of March, 237 childrenand young people were subject to protection plans in the county, this is up from 208 in March 2013.

Another 1,269 children were identified as needing a specialist children’s service– down from 1,444 the previous year.

A further 242 children are in the council’s care, up from 216 this time last year.

Ofsted reported neglect as a major factor in most cases examined by its inspectors and, though identification of neglect was getting better, in some cases oversight was poor and approaches too focused on the needs of

Individual social worker case loads have come down from an average of more than 30 last October to around 18, with help hired from an outside agency.

Recruitment and retention of social workers, however, remains a key risk, and, while management and supervisory functions were “improving slowly” they were still “too variable.”

The Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub – which puts child protection professionals in a single contact referral and assessment centre
is proving “increasingly effective” after an overhaul.

But children were still seeing too many changes of social worker and data
and information management was not yet accurate enough.

The Herefordshire Safeguarding Children Board (HSCB) is said to be working
better than in 2012 to ensure services are co-ordinated.

Board chairman Dave McCallum said many of the improvements are too recent to have made significant differences.

“There is still further work to do to ensure that the board’s policies and procedures are up to date and that it is getting accurate and relevant performance information from partner organisations.

“The board also needs to ensure that the work is manageable and prioritised in its ambitious programme of improvements.”