Page last updated at 14:51 GMT, Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Child abuse 'lessons not learnt'

Lessons from abuse cases are not being learnt quickly enough, says Ofsted

Lessons are not learnt from instances of serious child abuse and death in England because many case reviews are inadequate, inspectors have said.

Ofsted's annual report, which now covers all children's services, also said some staff were not equipped to respond to signs of abuse and neglect.

The government said it would "not rest until we have the very best possible child protection arrangements".

Child welfare is under scrutiny after a baby's death in Haringey, north London.

Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: "The report does present a positive picture for many children, young people and adults. It says that for those - for most - things are going in the right direction.

"But it also presents a picture where we're really concerned about inadequate services in a number of areas, particularly poor areas.

"We're concerned about the pace of change in some areas. We think the rate of change needs to be swifter than it is."

'Let down'

Ms Gilbert said: "Too many vulnerable children are still being let down by the system and we are failing to learn from the worst cases of abuse."

Serious case reviews are carried out when a child dies or is seriously injured owing to abuse or neglect.

Baby P
Baby P's mother and two men are awaiting sentence over the death
As well as judging 38 of the 92 reviews they evaluated as inadequate, the inspectors found "serious delays in producing them in almost all cases".

"These shortcomings limit their value as a means of sharing and improving practice," the report said.

Inspections of 44 local authority children's services rated more than one in five - 22% - no more than "satisfactory".

The report added that local authorities had "made progress towards providing earlier intervention and local preventative services for children and young people, but not all children have easy access to these".

In response to the report, children's minister Beverley Hughes said that the government would "not rest until we have the very best possible child protection arrangements to safeguard our most vulnerable children in every part of the country".

Children's Secretary Ed Balls announced this week that every part of England was to be covered by a Children's Trust Board.

The boards, which aim to prevent abuse by co-ordinating child protection workers, will also be strengthened.

If you are poor you are more likely to receive poor services: disadvantage compounds disadvantage
Christine Gilbert
Ofsted chief inspector
His move followed the failure of social workers in the London borough of Haringey to prevent the abuse and death of the 17-month-old boy known for legal reasons as Baby P.

On Tuesday, Council leader George Meehan apologised over the death, saying that there had been failure "by all the agencies involved" in the case.

Lord Laming, who made recommendations on child protection procedures after an inquiry into the torture and murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie in Haringey in 2000, has been asked to check his proposals' implementation nationwide.

This will include looking at ways to improve serious case reviews.

Educational achievement

Ofsted's annual report said a "major concern" was that three in 10 minor (non-association) independent schools did not fully meet the requirements for safeguarding pupils.

While educational achievement was improving overall there was too much variation between areas, and outcomes for disadvantaged pupils broadly had not improved, relative to those from better off homes.

In 2007, only 21% of children on free school meals achieved the equivalent of five good GCSEs including English and maths, compared with 49% of other pupils.

"To compare favourably with the best in the world, education in England must do better," said Ms Gilbert.

Some 8% of children's homes were judged inadequate by Ofsted, with safeguarding of children and management the areas most frequently needing improvement.

We are making some headway in closing the gaps in achievement between poorer and more affluent children
Schools minister Jim Knight
Ms Gilbert said in the report: "There's a strong link across every sector between deprivation and poor quality provision.

"This means that children and families already experiencing relative deprivation face further inequity in the quality of care and support for their welfare, learning and development.

"In short, if you are poor you are more likely to receive poor services: disadvantage compounds disadvantage."

But Ms Gilbert added it was possible to "buck this trend" and some places were outstanding.

She said: "Typically the provision that really makes a difference is ambitious.

"It does not believe that anyone's past or present circumstances should define their future."

Schools minister Jim Knight said that the gap in achievement between 11-year-olds on free school meals and those who were not had narrowed by three percentage points in the last four years.

"We are making some headway in closing the gaps in achievement between poorer and more affluent children," he said.

The minister added that extra funding and support was being targeted at schools with low results, while more one-to-one and small group tuition would help children "at risk of falling behind".

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