Home   News   Article

Highland councillors voice concerns over child services inspection

By Nicola Sinclair, Local Democracy Reporter

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
From left: Councillors Chris Birt, Morven Reid and Angela Maclean.
From left: Councillors Chris Birt, Morven Reid and Angela Maclean.

Members of Highland Council’s health committee have called for more detail about how the council will improve its services for vulnerable children.

It follows a series of poor inspection reports and internal reviews.

The latest concluded that children at risk of harm are significantly impacted by a lack of early intervention and support. It also found that the council is more effective at helping younger children than their older peers.

One councillor fought back tears as she challenged the committee to ramp up the speed of improvements.

“This is a damning report and it makes difficult reading,” Councillor Morven Reid said. “I don’t believe that anyone here thinks this is good enough, and I certainly don’t.”

Children’s service managers emphasised that they have already started work on a detailed action plan.

But several councillors wanted more detail on when and how improvements will be made.

The report going to today’s health, social care and wellbeing committee summarised several recent reviews and inspections.

Most recently, an inspection on Highland children at risk of harm.

The Care Inspectorate highlighted several weaknesses in the service:

  • Young people at risk of harm are significantly impacted by a lack of early intervention and mental health and wellbeing support.
  • The council responds more effectively to concerns about younger children than older children and young adults.
  • Frontline staff don’t always feel heard and leaders don’t always communicate their vision effectively.
  • No systematic analysis of data.

Only one area of the service was actually graded, relating to whether young people at risk of harm feel loved, protected and safe. The Care Inspectorate deemed the service ‘adequate’ in this regard, meaning the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

This was cold comfort for many councillors on the health, social care and wellbeing committee.

However, inspectors did praise council staff for their quick response to concerns, and effective collaboration. They said this continued even during the pandemic.

During today’s debate, children’s service managers offered reassurance that work had already begun on a detailed action plan.

But the council did not include that action plan in today’s committee report.

Councillor Muriel Cockburn said members are not there to criticise, and expressed confidence that the service is “on a journey, and we will get there”.

Opposition councillor Angela Maclean said that the council often says the health committee has a crucial role to play in shaping children’s services. Yet reports often come to committee only for noting, with very little solid detail.

For example, Highland Council last year commissioned an independent review of children’s residential care. This highlighted that Highland sends twice as many young people to children’s homes than the national average. The report’s author told committee change was necessary, and couldn’t wait.

Referencing that review, Cllr Maclean asked what happened to the 24 recommendations in that report.

“So much of this is vague,” she said. “If we’re here to scrutinise I want to know how many of these were implemented. I need more detail.”

Councillor Chris Birt went further, calling the report vague and anecdotal and saying he’d be “ashamed” if he’d authored it.

Highland children’s services boss Ian Kyle agreed with members that adequate isn’t good enough. He stressed that the council itself commissioned the review of residential care, to help them understand how they’re doing.

And the council’s health boss Fiona Duncan said the inspection report doesn’t capture a raft of changes the council has made to children’s services in recent months. She hopes these will deliver improvements soon.

Councillors agreed to note the report and look forward to further updates.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More