Cuts ‘threaten progress on protecting children’

PUBLIC sector cuts could threaten progress on protecting Essex children from abuse, it has been claimed.

Paul Fallon, chairman of Essex Safeguarding Children Board (ESCB), was speaking just weeks after Ofsted labelled Essex County Council’s protection of youngsters as ‘‘inadequate’’.

Despite this, inspectors said ‘‘significant progress’’ had been made in improving the safeguarding of services in Essex since November last year.

Mr Fallon, referring to Government cuts set to be announced today, said: “It’s a very difficult and testing time for everybody at the moment. With the best will in the world it does require some degree of resource to keep children safe.

“We’ll have to see how it pans out over the coming months, but that’s my biggest worry.”

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Mr Fallon, speaking at a meeting of Essex County Council’s children and young people scrutiny committee yesterday, said the public sector squeeze would affect individual members of the ESCB, such as the police and health trusts.

The ESCB was set up two years ago after a Government review also deemed Essex County Council’s safeguarding services to be inadequate.

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Mr Fallon said: “It was very clear we were being inadequate as a county, primarily because of how children social care was operating.

“The [Ofsted] report recognises that since Malcolm Newsam – interim executive director of children’s services – took up his role huge strides have been taken.”

Ofsted inspectors, in a report published in August, said: “The overall effectiveness of safeguarding services in Essex is still inadequate.

“Although there was a background of serious failings in Essex children’s social care services, where the local authority is the lead agency, the lack of scrutiny, insufficient challenge across the partnership and ineffective leadership by both the ESCB and children’s trust board contributed to the overall failure of partners to provide robust safeguarding services.”

Councillor John Aldridge asked if there should be more staff on the ground helping to prevent child abuse, instead of large management structures to react when things go wrong.

Mr Fallon said: “I am sure if we were sitting with a blank sheet of paper we could design something that was more streamlined.”

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