Lambeth is officially the best council in the country for looking after vulnerable children. Ofsted judged this month that Lambeth’s child protection service is ‘outstanding’, services for children in care are ‘outstanding’, and the adoption service is ‘outstanding’. Lambeth is the only council in the country to be judged outstanding for all three services. The achievement is all the more remarkable because Lambeth is one of the poorest boroughs in the country with high levels of demand for care services for young people unable to live with their family or at risk of domestic violence and abuse.
This marks a dramatic turnaround since Labour won control of the council in 2006. The council’s previous Lib Dem-Tory coalition was voted out of office after the Audit Commission ranked them among the bottom 3% of councils in the country. During the dying months of the Lib Dem-led council, Ofsted judged children’s social services to be in the bottom quartile nationally and declared that services were ‘delivering only minimum requirements’.
I subscribe to the belief that a society can be judged based on how it treats its weakest members. Children at risk of violence, abuse or without the support of a loving family are among the most vulnerable in our community. That’s why Labour pledged to improve children’s services. As soon as we won the election, Labour put in place tight monitoring of service performance, brought in talented new managers, rewarded successful staff and refused to accept failure in any part of the service. With that strong leadership, children’s services staff have delivered steady improvement and I pay tribute to their hard work, dedication and professionalism.
The Ofsted report notes that despite severe Government-imposed funding cuts “front line services have been protected and there are sufficient numbers of qualified and experienced staff”. The report commends the council’s work to prevent violent youth crime, noting that “a range of interventions are appropriately targeted on preventing children and young people becoming involved in gangs or being victims of gang violence.” The inspectors also praise ‘strong leadership’ from politicians, managers and staff; strong partnership working; and praise Lambeth’s cooperative council approach for its ability to “better meet local need and maximise the benefits of using the community and voluntary partners”.
I’d like to thank everyone who’s contributed to the turnaround of these vital services. In a very real sense this inspection report shows that some of Lambeth’s most vulnerable young people have been given the chance of a better life. It’s hard to think of an achievement more worthwhile than that.