A searing report by Ofsted has found “serious and widespread” failings within South Gloucestershire’s children’s services.
The judgement, published today, comes after inspectors carried out a month-long review of the services for children in need of help and protection, children who are looked after and care leavers.
While adoption services are rated ‘Good’, the report concludes that overall, children’s services are ‘Inadequate’.
The previous inspection in 2012 was ‘Adequate’ and the inspectors recognised there had been some positive changes since the council set up a turnaround board in 2014.
The report, which makes 22 recommendations, says: “The leadership, management and governance of services for children who need help and protection are inadequate. Political leaders and senior managers have not demonstrated sufficient understanding of the extent of the widespread and serious failures within the service, in particular the 0-25s disability team. Some practice has improved as a result of targeted activity but over the longer term, leaders have not made sufficient changes quickly enough to address the deficits, leaving too many children vulnerable or at risk of harm.”
The South Glos Safeguarding Children Board is also branded ‘Inadequate’ for failing to provide leadership to identify, monitor and challenge the failings identified by Ofsted.
The inspectors found too many children, particularly those with disabilities, are not being properly protected or helped: “These families have experienced distress due to delays in accessing help.” The council’s response to children who are at risk of sexual exploitation is not robust enough, and too many care leavers aren’t in education, work or training.
Peter Murphy, South Gloucestershire’s Director of Children, Adults & Health, said the council was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome and that steps were already being taken to bring about rapid improvement, which is acknowledged by Ofsted in the report.
He said: “We have set up an improvement board specifically looking at our 0 to 25 disability service to ensure the needs of our most vulnerable children and young people are being met. This remains a top priority and a robust improvement plan is being developed to address all the recommendations.
“We are reviewing how we identify children who may be at risk of sexual exploitation and strengthening the child protection arrangements we have in place within the council and together with partner organisations.
“We are also looking at how care plans for looked-after children should adapt to better meet a child’s changing needs or circumstances.”
He added: “We are also reviewing social work practice and reviewing the training needs of support staff, social workers and managers to ensure they are fully equipped with the right skills to help children to the best of their ability.”
Cllr Jon Hunt, Chair of the Children, Adults and Health Committee, apologised to those children and their families who have not received help and support quickly enough, adding he had “every confidence” the right people were in place to drive changes forward.
Inspectors also highlighted strengths with the children’s services, including that social workers know children well and children’s views are heard. Staff feel well supported and cared for by visible and approachable managers and practitioners are proud to work for the council and consistently say services are improving.
Children who need help and protection: ‘Inadequate’
Children looked after and achieving permanence: ‘Requires improvement’
Adoption performance: ‘Good’
Experiences and progress of care leavers: ‘Requires improvement’
Leadership, management and governance: ‘Inadequate