IMPROVEMENTS have been made to Gloucestershire County Council’s children’s services work however Ofsted said that some youngsters still experience “chronic neglect” – particularly those at risk of sexual exploitation – following a monitoring visit.

Inspectors from the watchdog carried out a visit over two days in January – the second time since the service was rated inadequate in March.

In the report published today, they said that “variable” progress has been made but identified improvements in the workloads of social workers and an improvement in morale and confidence in the senior leadership.

However, managers have been criticised for “too often failing” to address problem areas and “widespread” delays across the service were found.

Councillor Paul Hodgkinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats group at the county council, said: "Despite some progress being made, which I welcome, including improved staff morale, these are still serious criticisms of the council, almost a year after children's services rated as ‘inadequate’ for the second time.

“There is a list of failings that have been identified: widespread delays in the system, the quality of assessments of children being too variable and cases taking too long to be dealt with.

“But the most alarming findings are those which show that some children still experience “chronic neglect” whilst others are at risk for too long.

“For the most vulnerable children to still be at risk of sexual exploitation is extremely disturbing.

"It is clear that the pace of improvement within Gloucestershire is still too slow.

“What is needed now is a step change in the drive to improve these services and much better direction from management.”

Cllr Richard Boyles, cabinet member for children and young people said: “These visits are important because they provide a detailed and independent view of how we’re doing.

“We welcome Ofsted’s feedback and the report accurately reflects the improvements we made and the challenges we still face.

“Our biggest concern is that the pace of improvements is still too slow and children in need of protection continue to experience delays.

“We also know that social work practice is inconsistent, but we are addressing these concerns.

“To change this we are invested in staff, reducing caseloads and improving the systems we use.

“We are working hard to ensure that children in Gloucestershire are protected and this latest report gives us a clear focus before the next visit in May.”

As part of its improvement plan, the council has appointed a new permanent director of children’s services, Chris Spencer, who will take up the role on March 5.

Chris has held director positions in a number of councils, including Redbridge, Hillingdon and Slough and, during his leadership, he has led councils through four Ofsted inspections, all of which have been rated as ‘good’.

On the appointment of the new director, Cllr Boyles added: “This is an important appointment for the council, our staff and the children and families we support.

“Chris brings extensive experience and has a track record of delivering good social care at councils across the country.

“Having a permanent director in place will bring stability to the service and help us to make the changes we need to make sure vulnerable children are protected here in Gloucestershire.”

According to a council spokesman, since the Ofsted report was published in May 2017 the council has recruited additional experienced social workers, improved its monitoring systems and opened a new public reception for social care.