Services to protect children and young people in Norfolk have been condemned as “inadequate” by inspectoRS.
The finding came in a damning Ofsted report published on Friday, which called for immediate action to tackle problems in the service.
The report followed an unannounced inspection carried out last month.
lead inspector Ian Young said: “The delivery of arrangements for the protection of children in Norfolk is inconsistent and patchy.
“While some examples were seen by inspectors of effective intervention, there are too many cases where practice is very poor. As a result, the council and its partners cannot be confident that all eligible children have been identified, their needs appropriately assessed and plans put in place for their protection.”
Action to be taken immediately includes ensuring child protection enquiries are carried out by a qualified social worker, improving the consistency, timeliness and quality of multi-agency meetings and improving the quality and consistecy of management decision making.
The report said that in too many cases “the response to risk of harm to children was not sufficiently timely and did not result in effective action to protect them.”
Inspectors found that missing children were placed at very high levels of risk when social workers and managers did not sufficiently recognise and assess the risk of child sexual exploitation and abuse, and realted patterns such as grooming, leading to premature closure of cases.
County council leaders and officials have conceded that the report is not good enough, but said they are accelerating their plans to improve the standard of services.
They also welcomed praise for the authority’s decision to recommission children’s centres in the county.
Alison Thomas, Cabinet member for children’s services, said: “I know there is good practice in our arrangements to protect children but the challenge is to make sure that this is consistently good right across the county.
“I am pleased that Ofsted inspectors noted the strong commitment to protecting children shown by the Director, Chief Executive and I, together with our determination to champion children’s issues at corporate level and ensure sufficient resources are available.
“We must now move forward and I will have very clear oversight of the formal improvement plan and working very hard with the director and the Department for Education to bring about the necessary improvements as quickly as possible.”
Lisa Christensen, the authority’s director of children’s services, added: “Our prime concern is, and will always be, the protection, health and well being of Norfolk children and young people. Inspectors have given us some very clear messages about how we must improve our safeguarding service across the board and we will rise to the challenge they have set us.
“Ofsted has raised the bar with these inspections, but children and families have the right to expect the highest standards of service so this judgement is simply not good enough.”