Council has failed vulnerable children - Ofsted

March 03 2017

SOUTH Gloucestershire Council has apologised following a damning Ofsted report which revealed "critical weaknesses" in its services to vulnerable children.

SOUTH Gloucestershire Council has apologised following a damning Ofsted report which revealed "critical weaknesses" in its services to vulnerable children.

Councillor Jon Hunt, the chairman of the authority's Children, Adults and Health Committee, spoke following a shock report published by the Government watchdog which rated the authority's services to children in need of help and protection as "inadequate".

The 47-page report has led to calls from Unison for an inquiry into how the authority's children's services have been allowed to reach this point.

Inspectors published the report following a four-week inspection last November and December for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers. While adoption services were rated good, it concludes that overall services in South Gloucestershire are inadequate.

A total of 973 children have been identified as needing the council's children's services.

Councillor Hunt said: “I share the disappointment in the outcome and I feel it is only right to apologise to those children and their families who have not received help and support quickly enough. The needs of children, especially vulnerable children and their families must always come first."

Ofsted highlighted a requirement to urgently review all cases currently or recently allocated to managers within its 0 to 25 disability service. 

The report says "too many vulnerable children with disabilities have been left without adequate help or protection. As a result, children have been left in situations of unmet need and unassessed risk".

Peter Murphy, director of Children, Adults and Health at the council said: "Naturally we are deeply disappointed with the outcome but we are determined to improve services for children and young people. What I can assure you of is that we are already taking steps to bring about rapid improvement, which is acknowledged by Ofsted in the report. 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 for the council and a robust improvement plan is being developed to address all the recommendations in the report.

"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.

"And we are also looking at how care plans for looked after children should adapt to better meet a child’s changing needs or circumstances. "We are also reviewing social work practice across the service 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.

"As well as adoption performance being rated good, Ofsted recognises that the work of the turnaround board, set up in 2014, has driven a number of positive and much-needed changes in children’s services. However we accept these have not been quick enough for some families."

Councillor  Hunt added: “I am very clear that our aspiration is to see services for children and young people move to a good rating at the earliest opportunity.

“To bring about the necessary improvements, the council must act swiftly and decisively but I have every confidence that we have the right people in place to drive the changes forward.”

Labour’s Councillor Gareth Manson criticised the immediate response to the report from senior officers and councillors.

“This defensive attitude and culture really needs to change if there is to be any meaningful and sustainable turn around in the council’s performance,” he said.

Foster mum Sandie Davis, from  from Emersons Green, described the Ofsted report as dire and called on the council to do better.

In a statement to the full council meeting, she outlined cases where families had waited years for diagnoses, Education, Health and Care Plans , social workers and other services, and had suffered extreme personal stress as a result.

“It is your job to ensure that services are good. It is your responsibility to know what is happening and if you don’t have enough information you should ask,” Mrs Davis told councillors.

The report did  highlight a number of strengths. It said:

● Social workers know children well. Children’s views are heard and those who are in need receive appropriate support

● Adoption performance is rated as good. Children who cannot live with their birth families are routinely considered for adoption and are found caring homes quickly

● Children whose needs are clear are referred to the access and response team and social workers and managers swiftly refer them to the right service

● Staff feel well supported and cared for by visible and approachable managers.