Council praised by Ofsted for protecting children during virus pandemic

THE NATIONAL watchdog for schools and children’s services has praised the London Borough of Merton for the quality of its work to keep local children safe during the pandemic.

Ofsted inspectors visited the Council in October to carry out a three-day focused visit, reviewing the way the council has adapted to continue protecting and supporting children since Covid-19 forced changes to the way services are delivered.

The Council has maintained all of its vital services to vulnerable children throughout the pandemic, ensuring prompt responses to concerns raised, and has introduced new mechanisms so families could still get support during lockdowns and restrictions.

The Ofsted report summarised:

“The most vulnerable children and families in Merton have benefited from a high level of protection and support throughout, and despite, the COVID-19 emergency.

“Nearly all children and young people in Merton’s care have continued to make good progress and have been protected. Children’s services staff, schools and partner agencies have worked together very effectively to enable the most vulnerable children and children in care to continue to attend school.

“Dedicated and skilled children’s services staff have gone to great lengths to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on children and families in Merton. In turn, staff have been very well supported by senior leaders and managers.”

Although the report notes two areas for further improvement – in relation to interventions for child criminal exploitation and timeliness of permanence planning and life story work – it acknowledges that senior managers had already identified these and put plans in place to tackle them.

Cllr Eleanor Stringer, Cabinet Member for Schools and Children’s Services, said: “Our staff have worked exceptionally hard to ensure we maintain as much face-to-face contact with families as possible, and to ensure the pandemic doesn’t reduce the support they get from us.

“We’ve introduced some new ways of delivering services to ensure the safety of staff and families, but – together with our partners, healthcare workers, the police and especially our schools – we have been able to maintain our high quality services despite the problems created by the virus and resulting restrictions.

“This recognition couldn’t be better timed – there have been some very, very long hours put in by children’s services teams to achieve this, and I’m delighted this official review reflects their efforts.”