Children in Lewisham will not receive “consistently good” social care services for at least two years, it emerged at a committee meeting last night (January 23).  

Ofsted inspected the borough’s children’s social care service in July, rating it ‘requires improvement’ in all four areas.  

It had previously received the same rating in 2015, prompting an improvement plan, although children in care and their progress was rated ‘good’.  

The July inspection noted the council’s early help services were “underdeveloped” despite recommendations to improve in the 2015 report. 

It found there had been no change to the judgements on leadership, management or services to children in need of help and protection, while services to children in care had “deteriorated”. 

The report found that social workers’ caseloads were too big, leading to staff jumping ship, while inspectors noted a lack of knowledge about domestic violence, despite 80 per cent of all cases being linked to it – inspectors noted that social workers’ training had not “received a high priority”.  

“Significant” IT problems were also found during the inspection.  

Director of children’s social care Lucie Heyes attended a children and young people select committee to update members on progress since the summer.  

Her report showed that a 2020 training programme has been developed, while core skills workshops were held for all staff.  

Among other improvements, a minimum set of standards has been put in place for social work practice after inspectors found it to be “still too variable”, while 20 advanced practitioner roles were created.  

The service is reviewing the current violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy with hopes of “creating alternative approaches to addressing domestic abuse”.

It will include services for perpetrators and children affected by domestic abuse. 

Plans for the future include developing a different model for targeted early help, hiring a specialist domestic abuse consultant, doing a recruitment campaign and reviewing all existing commissioned family support services, to “explore the establishment of an in-house service”. 

But when asked how long it would take for the service to be up to scratch Ms Heyes said a “minimum of two years”.  

Councillor Octavia Holland asked for a “genuine answer” as to how long it would take for the director to be confident about the service.  

She said: “Obviously in this report there’s lots of really good work going on and Ofsted did highlight some positives but I think for all us it’s very disappointing that […] there are lots of children who are still not getting adequate service.  

“How quickly [do] you think the service can be improved to the point where you’re really confident about the service that children and young people are getting? 

“Obviously the Ofsted rating is a really big deal but actually all of us are here because we care about the population.”

Ms Heyes said: “The journey out of the requires improvement judgement is one of the hardest bits of the journey.  

“The improvement programme was originally a three-year programme; we’re a year into it and we’re anticipating that by the end of the next two years we should be – but there is never any guarantee – delivering consistently good services to children in Lewisham.  

“But it will take some time to be able to do that consistently. 

“It’s not to say that all children in Lewisham that are receiving children social care services will be getting a less than good service, the variation of practice is too wide, and to be able to confidently say that we are consistently delivering will take a minimum of two years.”