AN Ofsted inspection of children's services in Wirral has brought to light a devastating catalogue of serious and widespread failings.

It reveals vulnerable children are being subjected to unacceptable delays leading to them facing ever-increasing risks.

And it brands as "inadequate" the safeguarding board set up to protect children, saying its members have failed to ensure they are free from being influenced. 

The watchdog found almost all the problems disclosed by its inspection were known by senior council leaders.

But a "corporate failure" to recruit and retain a permanent head of service severely impaired the ability of the department's director and senior leadership team to address them.

The probe revealed senior managers and political leaders have not provided effective and stable leadership for the service over the last three years.

The director this week said she "fully accepts" the findings and apologised.

Julia Hassall will now work alongside chief executive Eric Robinson to rectify the problems - and an additional £2m is to be invested as a matter of urgency to recruit more social workers and improve management.

Labour leader of the council Cllr Phil Davies has said improving child care standards now will be his "number one priority."

Tory opposition leader Jeff Green believes Cllr Davies should now simply stand aside, while the Lib-Dems said "we hope senior politicians and managers are considering their own positions."

The 44-page Ofsted document published today sent shock waves through the authority.

The damning review says councillors and managers widely scrutinise performance data - but it is not leading to improvements or focused on the right things.

Case recording is sometimes so poor it is not possible to tell how decisions have been reached or even what has happened after social workers' intervention in children's lives.

When youngsters leave the care system there is sometimes no record kept of where they have gone or what has become of them.

The report says since the last Ofsted inspections in 2011 and 2012, services have "got worse" for children and young people.

Youngsters have had too many changes of social workers, who sometimes do not listen closely enough to what the children are telling them.

Many children experience "unacceptable drift and delay" at every stage with the increasing and progressive risks to them unrecognised.

This is particularly true for children living in neglectful and domestic abuse situations, and there is "inappropriate delay" in notifying police about youngsters who witness and experience violence in the home.

Sometimes these delays can be up to four weeks.

The inspection found senior managers and political chiefs have not provided effective and stable leadership of services for children and young people over the last three years.

Bosses understand "most but not all" of the weaknesses in the service and have formed detailed strategic plans for improvement.

But these had not started at the time of the inspection in July.

The inspectors found: "The absence of an enduring, effective head of children's social care has impeded the director understanding the quality and capability of some operational services for vulnerable children and families and her capacity to deliver prioritised, timely improvements."

Wirral Local Safeguarding Children Board is also judged to be inadequate as it is not discharging all of its statutory functions.

And its governance arrangements do not ensure it is independent of influence - as required by law.

It does not always notify Ofsted of serious incidents within the legal time scales - and in one recent case did not reflect accurately the vulnerable child's involvement with the local authority.

"This means that when a child is harmed a full external scrutiny of incidents is delayed and not always based on complete information."

A special meeting of the council is being arranged "at the next available opportunity" after a request from the Labour group.

The Ofsted report has echoes of findings from an investigation by independent consultant Anna Klonowski in 2011 - published five years ago today.


Julia Hassall, director of children’s services, accepted improvements were needed and promised urgent action to tackle the issues raised.

She said staff will be given the right tools to do their jobs well, but will also hold them to account when standards were not met.

She said: “We completely accept the findings of this report and apologise for our failings.

“Our front-line social care teams work incredibly hard in trying to protect our vulnerable young people but it is absolutely clear improvements need to be made.

“We know how important it is to keep a young person safe. When our social workers come to work every morning it is the thing at the forefront of their minds – keeping children safe.

“I understand the pressure they are under – they are constantly being asked to do more, with much less, and have coped with an almost constantly changing management team above them.

"But we need to absolutely clear on what is expected.”

Eric Robinson, chief executive, said: “We have made some changes in terms of social care and I will now work with Julia Hassall.

“My background is in children’s services so I will oversee the work.

“The Ofsted report found serious and widespread failures in some of our practices.

“These failings are unacceptable and do not reflect the quality services Wirral people expect or deserve.

“It is absolutely vital that we put them right as quickly as possible.

“When I joined Wirral last year it was clear that unprecedented levels of staff turnover in senior, key positions were having an impact on our social work teams.

“We have already taken steps to rectify the issue and we are now going further more quickly.

“New staff members are being recruited, new training programmes are being developed and we are taking urgent steps to implement Ofsted’s recommendations.

“This is all happening right now, our improvement board will drive further change and we will quickly see a vastly improved service.

“Painful as these reports are what the Ofsted inspection does is tell us where we need to focus our attention in the coming months.

“We guarantee Wirral residents every issue Ofsted identified will be fixed as a matter of urgency.”


Birkenhead MP Frank Field said: "This report is simply devastating.

"It identifies serious problems, shines a light on the reasons behind them, and sets out a plan to change them.

"The important thing now is for every senior officer at the local authority to read this report and act on it without delay.

"Now is not the time for scapegoating." 


Paddy Cleary from Unison told the Globe: “This report is no surprise; it shows the council has been a rudderless ship when it comes to children’s services.

“It goes against the 2020 pledges to look after the most vulnerable in our society.

“Some of the recommendations are damning.

“We know there are cuts coming from central government, but the most vulnerable should not be suffering as a result.

“It’s about stepping up and saying no more cuts, because we can’t take anymore.

“Now there needs to be a complete root, branch and soil change in the way this service is operated.

“We’re in the bottom 25% of the country - and are supposed to be a ‘most-improved council.’

“If we’re ‘most improved’ then how bad were we before?”


Councillor Jeff Green said: “The findings of this report are truly shocking. 

"No amount of spin and news management can hide the fact that the Labour administration has catastrophically failed the children and families of Wirral. 

"The independent Ofsted report lays bare in the starkest possible terms the failure of the Labour-run Wirral Council to provide any sort of leadership to the service and the performing of the most important duty it has.

He continued: “Keeping children safe is, and has always been, the top priority for Wirral’s Conservative group and our track record speaks for itself.

"In March 2011 under the Conservative/Lib Dem administration, safeguarding and looked-after children services were rated good by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

“Despite our repeated warnings since 2014 - when the Labour Party took all council administration posts and scrutiny chairmanships - that there would be a lack of independent scrutiny, this approach has clearly failed Wirral children and the Labour Party in Wirral must take full accountability. 

"I will be requisitioning a Special Council meeting so that the full findings of the report can be examined in public.”

Responding to the administration’s assertion that the leader of the council will now make this his top priority, Cllr Green said: “This beggars belief.

"Clearly the Labour leader and his administration have been asleep at the wheel - what on earth have they been doing for the last five years?

"In all conscience I cannot see how the current administration can continue and would expect them to step aside to allow for a new and clean start to be made.”


Wirral Council’s 2020 vision Wirral Plan lists its number one priority is "protecting the most vulnerable" - Ofsted have blown this out of the water with their inspection findings.

This report is a kick in the teeth for vulnerable children who rely on the authorities to be on top of their game, it simply is not acceptable for the council’s services towards any vulnerable person to be anything other than first class.

Ofsted have delivered a damning verdict and put in place an improvement board which is to be independently led, this is welcome; but we also have to find out how, in such a short space of time from the previous Ofsted inspection, children’s services have deteriorated so sharply.

There has to be political and managerial responsibility and accountability for the failure to maintain children’s services which are capable of protecting children and young people from harm.

We would hope senior politicians and managers are considering their own positions now the report has been made public, the council leader needs to put in place fresh leadership to bring these services up to the standard we must all want them to achieve.