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Child protection not good enough
One in seven councils in England are "inadequate" at caring for some of the most vulnerable children in society, a report has found.
The standard of child protection at 20 councils is "unacceptably poor", Ofsted has warned.
Only one in four local authorities are judged to be "good" at safeguarding children, a new report by the watchdog has concluded.
Ofsted, which inspects children's social care including child protective services, said more needs to be done to address "incompetent and ineffective" leadership in children's services.
Some managers do not have a "firm understanding" of what constitutes good practice, the watchdog said.
In its first stand-alone social care annual report, Ofsted said that children's services need "strong and stable leadership" to improve the services that provide help, care and protection to children at risk of abuse or neglect.
Inspectors found that in the weakest places many "basic acceptable practices" were not in place and some authorities were criticised for poor coordination with health workers, police and schools.
HM chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: "As it stands today, there are 20 councils where the standard of child protection is unacceptably poor and judged to be inadequate.
"Incompetent and ineffective leadership must be addressed quickly. But where those in leadership positions have capacity and potential, this must be recognised and nurtured.
"Too much leadership volatility in social care is counter-productive - that goes without saying. One in three local authorities has had a change in their director of children's services last year alone. The combination of unstable communities and political and managerial instability in our social care services is a dangerous mix."
Ofsted's national director for social care, Debbie Jones, said: "The picture of performance we are publishing today shows there is clearly an ongoing need for improvement.
"Some services are increasingly expert at reducing risk, helping families to look after their children and enabling children at risk in their area to make good progress.
"It can be done, and therefore it must be done in all areas, equally well. Ofsted will be rigorous in holding local councils and social care providers to account but we will also support them to make the improvements that children deserve."
One of the 20 councils deemed to be inadequate was Birmingham City Council, which has now failed on seven inspection judgments.
Sir Michael called England's second city a "national disgrace".
He said: "These characteristics of failure have been encapsulated in one area in particular: England's second city - Birmingham, a city where we have had seven failed inspection judgments, eight whistleblowing incidents in four years, nine years of inadequate serious case reviews, and 10 years of failure for vulnerable children.
"Why is it that nearly a third of children in the city live in households on low incomes? Why is it that infant mortality is almost twice the national average, worse than in Cuba and on a par with Latvia and Chile?
"They must surely be linked to the evidenced failure of corporate governance on a grand scale - governance that has failed to grasp the nettle over many years and which has relegated our second city to fourth division for children's services.
"These are shocking statistics and a national disgrace."
He implied that the council would work better to protect children if it was smaller, saying: "As somebody said about the banks not so long ago, if they are too big to fail, they are too big. The same could be said about this council.
"It is an absolute disgrace and Government needs to look at this with real urgency. If better governance means breaking it up so that children are better protected, then that's what needs to happen."