Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole (BCP) Council has been instructed to address issues within its Children’s Services Department, after receiving an overall Ofsted rating of ‘Inadequate’. The deficiencies highlighted by Ofsted in a February 2022 report leave vulnerable children living in BCP without effective protection from harm.

The latest Ofsted inspection of the BCP’s Children’s Services discovered that children experienced multiple changes of social workers, senior leaders were inaccessible to social workers, there was a poor understanding of practice standards, and some teams had high caseloads.

With some children left at risk of harm, Ofsted inspectors were particularly critical of:

  • the lack of access to early help assessments without justification,

  • the need for repetitive intervention before allowing children to access help,

  • the low level of understanding of the risks of domestic violence to children, and

  • the placement of young people in poor-quality homes of multiple occupation.

It has been criticised that paperwork is not always adequately filled out, communication is weak, decisions can be slow, and children can be subject to pre-proceedings for extended amounts of time without their circumstances being improved. Also concerning was the under-use of advocacy and independent advisors, meaning that some children do not have the means to have their voices heard and understood.

Ofsted noted that there were senior leaders who were aware of the deficits, but failed to take purposeful remedial actions. Ofsted inspector Steve Lowe wrote: ‘The quality of this practice is too variable, with much being poor. Thresholds for intervention are not applied consistently, and the oversight of managers is too variable in quality. Multiple changes of social workers and managers in some teams also contribute greatly to the lack of focus and urgency for many children.’

This is not the first criticism BCP’s Children’s Services have received; a 2020 Ofsted visit concluded that the ‘fundamental building blocks required for children to get the right help at the right time were missing, almost in entirety’. Improvements since this have included the creation of new specialist services and strengthened infrastructure. These have not been in place for long enough to have identifiable impacts.

Supported by Hampshire County Council, BCP is developing and implementing ‘robust, realistic, and achievable plans’, beginning with appointing John Coughlan as an improvement advisor, per a direction issued by the Department for Education. His advice includes allocating extra funding and renewing the political leadership for the services. Addressing the former, Counsellor Drew Mellor has announced an increased budget of more than £20million between 2021 and 2023. For the latter, BCP has appointed a new Director of Children’s Services, Cathi Hadley. Ms Hadley has previously taken on the role in West and North Northamptonshire Councils, with the two authorities stating that she had ‘turned the service around’. In reality, ‘the core business of reducing the risks to children in need of help and protection is yet to have a consistent and effective impact.’

Ofsted is carrying out a series of visits in order to monitor the local authority’s progress, the first of which was conducted last week (June 7th and 8th 2022). Each visit will be followed by a report on the findings.

We at Farleys Solicitors continue to bring claims against local authorities for their failings, securing many millions of pounds in damages for victims every year. If you would like to discuss the possibility of bringing a claim against a local authority for social services failings, you can contact our dedicated abuse line in confidence on 0330 134 6430, or get in touch by email or through the online chat below.