Disabled children at risk of domestic violence and sexual exploitation have been left without the support and protection they need due to “serious” failures in South Gloucestershire’s children’s services, Ofsted has found.
Inspectors rated the council’s children’s services ‘inadequate’ overall, citing “serious and widespread” weaknesses in the 0-25 disabilities service as the main reason for the judgment.
A case audit found 64 disabled children had waited more than 18 months to see a social worker, despite almost half (31) being eligible for specialist social work support.
Some of the children were “at risk of significant harm” from domestic abuse or child sexual exploitation. Others were living in families “under acute stress without appropriate support” but duty systems to respond to parents’ and professionals’ concerns were “largely ineffective”, Ofsted found.
“This inspection found that 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,” Osted’s report said.
“Because this is so serious, the judgement for this inspection is inadequate. Other children, like those who are adopted, children looked after and care leavers, receive better support.”
Ofsted gave the council ‘inadequate’ ratings for child protection and leadership and governance. Adoption services were rated ‘good’ and the authority’s progress on supporting care leavers was rated as ‘requires improvement’.
The council said it was determined to improve services and had urgently reviewed all recently allocated cases to the 0-25 disabilities team in light of Ofsted’s findings.
Inspectors found a “turnaround board” set up in 2014, combined with strong political and financial support, had delivered a number of positive changes in South Gloucestershire’s children’s services. Staff told inspectors they were proud to work for the services and felt the support on offer was improving.
However, Ofsted found the quality of support provided by the council remained variable. Managers were failing to make sure that “core social work practice” was in place, child protection thresholds were inconsistently applied and the response to child sexual exploitation concerns around care leavers was “weak”, inspectors noted. Social workers had an insufficient knowledge of domestic abuse, that was too often “rarely informed by research”, they added.
Peter Murphy, the council’s 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.”