YOUNGSTERS suffering neglect are being left in harmful situations for too long because decision-making in Blackburn with Darwen’s Children’s Services department is too slow, Ofsted inspectors have found.

However, when children are at immediate or significant risk, decisions to bring them into care are made promptly and appropriately, inspectors said.

The finding were announced following a focused visit last month, with inspectors Paula Thomson-Jones and Kathryn Grindrod concluding that although children’s services in the borough were “good”, there was a concern that “progress remains slow in key areas of weakness that were identified at previous inspections".

These included quality of assessments and plans for children, management oversight, the quality of audits and caseloads in the assessment and support teams to enable social workers to build meaningful relationships with children and deliver good-quality social work practice.

In a findings report, Ms Thomson-Jones said: “When children are at immediate or significant risk, decisions to bring them into care are made promptly and appropriately.

"However, decision-making when children are suffering neglect is too slow. This means that some children are left in harmful situations and plans for their future are delayed.

“Social work caseloads are too high in the assessment and support teams, which impacts on social workers’ ability to build relationships with children and understand their experiences.

"Although leaders have acted to try and reduce demand for social work services, this has not had any impact on workloads in these social work teams.

“At the point of this visit, effective interim plans to address workload pressures were not in place.”

The findings showed that when children were at immediate risk, for example if they had been physically harmed, decisions for them to come into care were taken appropriately and quickly, but the response to children experiencing neglect was not always prompt or effective.

This meant that some children were being left in harmful situations for too long and often came into care in an emergency as the result of further significant incidents.

The report showed that many initial placement plans and care plans were poorly completed, and did not provide carers with the information they needed to look after children.

While the caseloads of social workers remained too high, including for newly-qualified workers, who do not currently have appropriately protected caseloads or enough time to learn and develop, inspectors reported that since the last focused visit, senior leaders had undertaken a significant restructuring which was starting to reduce work in the service.

Inspectors also found there had been improvements in the process for making decisions about children coming into care, and the local authority was praised for undertaking family finding using a matching process based on children’s needs.

This resulted in children in care having their needs met and their circumstances did improve.

Cllr Maureen Bateson, executive member for children, young people and education, said: “Ofsted undertook a focused visit in February providing a snapshot of the strengths and areas for development of our services for children in care.

“We welcome their findings, we have made improvements to drive up the quality of social work practice across Blackburn and Darwen.

“Successful recruitment campaigns have meant we now have even more high-quality social workers who have joined our teams, going the extra mile to help support children and bring greater stability to their lives.

"We know more needs to be done around recruiting and attracting people to consider social work careers. Social worker recruitment is not just an issue here, it’s a problem nationally.

“We are proud of how we look after our staff. Just recently we were able to retain three social workers who had received job offers elsewhere which highlights our close-knit community of staff, and the reputation we have for caring, nurturing and growing our staff is highly valued here.

“While we continue to have social work vacancies, we have a clear plan in place to recruit to these vacancies.

“We know that we still have more to do and in the current unknown and challenging times, the focus and pressures on this area of work has meant the work we are doing has never been so important.

“Ofsted also recognised the significant investment the council has made in transforming how we manage numbers coming to our front door in recent months, enabling us to improve outcomes for young people and develop best practice.

“We recognise there are always improvements that we can make and we will work to implement Ofsted’s recommendations, including doing more to involve children in decisions about the services that support them and improving the consistency of case recording.