TOWN hall chiefs have said vulnerable children in Bolton are safe after a Government watchdog reported youngsters could slip through the net and put at further risk of harm.
Ofsted has told Bolton Council to improve the way it protects and helps children and families after highlighting cases had been “urgently reopened” and agencies involved did not always meet at the outset to share information when concerns are raised about the “risk of significant harm to children”.
Inspectors have juged children’s services to “require improvement”.
The report comes after the publication of a serious case review into the tragic death of Rio Smedley, who was murdered by his mother’s partner, Daniel Rigby.
It highlighted areas of improvement to safeguarding children — although it added the death of the two-year-old could not have been prevented.
In the Ofsted report, inspectors criticised the fact police, social workers, health services and other agencies did not always meet at the outset to share information when concerns are raised about the” risk of significant harm to children”.
It stated that as a result “enquiries were maybe compromised and children could be at further risk of harm”.
Ofsted added there are no "widespread or serious failures that leave children at risk of harm”.
Town Hall bosses have defended their record of looking after vulnerable children.
They said that face to face meetings were not always necessary — for example in one case initial enquiries revealed clothing dye had been mistaken for a bruise — and that information was always shared.
They stressed there was no evidence that children were being put at further risk through not always having those meetings.
And chiefs say the two cases referred to by Ofsted were not "urgently reopened", but revisited to see if additional help was needed and not because of child protection issues.
Margaret Asquith, director of childrens and adults services said: “The inspection looked at our services for looked after children, early help services, help and protection, leaving care, fostering and adoption services.
“We are really pleased with much of the report and we received a ‘good’ judgement for looked after children, care leavers and adoption services.
“However, we are disappointed with the overall judgement and its focus on process. Throughout our last three Ofsted inspections, children’s services has been found ‘good’ and our processes have remained the same.
“We would like to reassure residents that we do already share information with other agencies, but Ofsted would like us to share information in different ways, so we will be doing this.
“We will continue to work hard to make our services work for all children in Bolton.”
DESPITE children’s services requiring improvement according to inspectors they did praise the way agencies “work well together” to help children and their families.
The report said: “Social workers know the looked after children they work with well and visit them regularly.
“Children are positive about the support offered by the social worker or key workers and are proud of their achievements.”
The report said one child described her social worker as “brilliant” and senior leaders were praised for providing “consistent and visible leadership”.
Social workers said that they were proud to work in Bolton and Ofsted recognised the good work being done to help the children achieve in school.
Cllr Linda Thomas said: “We are very pleased with large sections of the Ofsted report, which highlight our great work with early help services and work with care leavers and our outstanding work on fostering and adoption. Bolton is leading a North West campaign on adoption and has some of the best adoption figures in the country.
“Whilst we understand that Ofsted wish us to improve our processes, our outcomes and results for children across Bolton prove that our processes do work.
“As councillors, we are satisfied that the officers in children’s services are keeping children safe in Bolton and will continue to do so in the future.”