Ofsted carried out a two-week inspection of the council’s children’s social care services from 13 to 24 January to assess how the authority helps and protects children, and judged the overall effectiveness of the service to be inadequate.
The report highlights some critical areas that need urgent attention, including one of the service’s biggest challenges – the recruitment and retention of social workers – in order to reduce caseloads of some teams and meet the emotional and mental health needs of children.
Inspectors also found the council’s response to vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds who present as homeless as not being good enough.
Cllr Mahmood Hussain, Portfolio Holder for children’s services, said: “We are truly sorry that some children are not getting the right help at the right time and we will do whatever it takes to put this right.”
Since the inspection the council has undertaken immediate actions to address some of the critical areas that require improving. This has included recruiting an extra seven social workers to the assessment team to tackle high caseloads and improve the quality and timeliness of social work assessments to help reduce the delay in children’s needs being met.
Additional resources and expertise have also been put into Luton’s Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) to ensure the risks and needs of children are sufficiently identified.
An improvement plan is being developed to address other areas of weakness.
Cllr Hussain added: “We had already put in place systems to respond better to children at risk of radicalisation, female genital mutilation and forced marriage which are having a positive impact and we have developed our Early Help service where children and their families are benefiting from early interventions. While the report did list these and other areas as strengths, we fully accept that our overall performance is far from where it should be, and we will fix this.”
Robin Porter, Chief Executive, said: “Since starting in my role I have seen how dedicated and hardworking our children’s social care staff are, and how determined they are to try to achieve the best outcomes for children. We have been supporting them by increasing the investment into Children’s Services, however this report clearly states that better support and systems need to be put in place and we’ve immediately taken action to address some of these.
"We still have much more to do to ensure all of our most vulnerable children and young people receive the highest standards of protection and care, and that all children are in a position to thrive and feel safe. We are absolutely committed and focussed on ensuring this happens.”
Ofsted inspectors will return to Luton to assist with the development of the improvement plan. The findings of the Ofsted inspection, together with the proposed plan, will be discussed at the council’s executive meeting in April.