Monday, February 16, 2015

News: Rotherham Council's NEET trick

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The recent inspection that deemed Rotherham Council "not fit for purpose" includes a case study on how data on the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) was being "consciously delayed."

Last August, a report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham described how vulnerable children have been repeatedly failed by the council. A statutory inspection of Rotherham Council was undertaken at the request of the government by Louise Casey. It presented "a disturbing picture of a council failing in its duty to protect vulnerable children and young people from harm" and a "complete failure of political and officer leadership in Rotherham."

A section on what happened when staff blew the whistle to raise issues of how the council was operating included a case study of a complaint the council received in March 2011 that data relating to the number of NEETs was being falsified. It was alleged that negative data was not input while positive evidence was, and young people were being taken off the system to make the numbers look better.

The case study is below:

Inspectors reviewed extensive correspondence spanning over a year. It is clear that the Council was placing the onus on the whistle-blower to provide evidence, rather than attempting to establish the facts for itself. The complainant was tenacious and eventually, 15 months after the initial complaint, RMBC acknowledged they had a point. An internal auditor was asked to look into the matter. Their investigation supported the allegation that NEETs recordings had been “consciously delayed …. to positively affect the outcome of the monthly performance calculation”. It continued “that while this had the effect of positively influencing each month’s calculation the remaining ‘balance’ was inevitably added in the following month”.

However, the complainant continued to assert that the investigation was flawed: “this falsification led to children at severe risk not receiving support. RMBC totally ignored the focus of the complaint…” Inspectors reviewed the scope of the auditor’s report. The auditor did not look at the systems or track any cases to see whether children were in fact added after the deadline, or whether others were removed from the system. In this respect the investigation scope was flawed as the central thrust of the complainant’s concern, i.e. the well-being of the young people affected, was not considered.

By blowing the whistle, the complainant told inspectors they tried to bring into the light practices they thought could be adversely affecting vulnerable young people. The matter never got properly looked into, and with the passage of time, we will never fully know whether the complainant was right. But on the balance of probability, i.e. having been able to establish that figures were indeed falsified, it would be reasonable to accept that there may well also have been truth in the other assertions made. The whistle-blower lost their job in a restructure undertaken by the Council's provider.

The Connexions service, which was later delivered by contracted provider, Prospects, offered careers advice and was responsible for helping young people find work, training and college places. Services were cut as government and local council budgets reduced.

As part of the Integrated Youth Support Service (IYSS) restructure in 2013, Connexions was merged with other services such as those targeting youth offending.

In November 2011, 7.7% of all 16-18 year olds in Rotherham were NEET, below the national average of 8.1%. The number of NEETs stood at its lowest level for four years. The November 2014 NEET figure for Rotherham was 5.9%, above the national average of 4.6%.

Images: RMBC

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