Health and Wellbeing

Ofsted finds serious failures in services for young people in Devon

young people's feet

Posted on: 17 March 2020

Serious failings in the way a small number of vulnerable young people were helped and supported to become independent after they left the care system has led Devon’s Children’s Services to be rated “inadequate” by Ofsted.

The latest Ofsted inspection which took place during January also found weaknesses in the social work response in some serious cases of child neglect.

But the watchdog also notes the good work the council is doing for the majority of vulnerable children in Devon and points to notable improvements in child protection and safeguarding arrangements.

Devon currently works with nearly 5,000 children and young people and their families every year, including 700 in care and 440 older care leavers.

Inspectors say its early help for children and families has been significantly strengthened, it has responded well to the increasing risk of child exploitation, it provides good support for children in long-term foster care and its specialist work with homeless young people and the operation of the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub or MASH are effective.

Inspectors also praise the way that agencies work together in Devon to protect and support vulnerable children and their families, and say senior leaders demonstrate the capacity to improve services further.

However the experiences of a handful of older care leavers and the fact that senior leaders did not know the extent of the failure to protect them mean the overall verdict of inadequate was inevitable.

Today the council’s deputy leader and Cabinet member for children’s services, James McInnes, accepted the findings and announced that Devon will be working closely with Cornwall Council – whose services for care leavers are rated outstanding – to bring about immediate improvements.

“We are determined to put this right,” he said.

In the Ofsted report, Lead inspector Steve Lowe said there was too much emphasis on young people leaving care finding their own accommodation. This had resulted in some living in unsuitable accommodation and, at the time of the inspection, in the most extreme cases, a small minority were living in tents on the streets where they were at serious risk of harm.

“Obviously, I am bitterly disappointed that we have let any vulnerable young person down,” says Councillor McInnes.

“Any parent will recognise that trying to help a young person to become a thriving young adult able to stand on their own two feet can be a tough job. This is especially true of the most troubled and vulnerable of our care leavers who are living chaotic lives, and struggling with things like drug and alcohol or mental health issues.

“The cases highlighted by Ofsted are clearly extreme, but we fully recognise we have a duty of care to every single care leaver and as a corporate parent we must do more to reach out and wrap support around them better.

“I have every confidence in our senior managers and frontline staff to act fast and do what is needed to turn things around.”

Separately in his report, Mr Lowe also criticised the length of time it took some social workers to remove children who had suffered neglect and emotional abuse from their families.

But he added: “Children, carers and parents spoken to during the inspection were mainly positive about the service they receive when things are stable and going well.”

The inspector also highlighted many positive strengths and improvements.

“The early help offer in Devon has been significantly strengthened. Increasingly, children and families are getting the right help at the right time from people they know and trust.

“The MASH is well resourced and provides an effective service to children.

“The local authority has responded well to the increasing risk of exploitation of children. Social workers and other professionals in the community identify potential risks early.

“The local authority has reduced the number of times children go missing from residential care.

“Young people who present as homeless are seen promptly and receive a full assessment of their needs (and) are accommodated safely and quickly.

“The local authority has a good understanding of the needs of children who are home educated. The number of children being withdrawn from mainstream education is reducing at key points.

“Children in long-term fostering arrangements are supported well and have access to a wide range of activities, such as overseas trips, leisure pursuits and social events which prepares them well for later independence.”

Mr Lowe concludes that senior leaders demonstrate the capacity to improve services in some areas and there have been some notable advances.

They have invested heavily in creating an environment where workers feel valued and supported and social workers have good access to training.

“Senior leaders have created an environment where, on the whole, caseloads are manageable and social workers and their colleagues have the time and resources to do impactful work with children.

“The local authority has the infrastructure and political support that are necessary for children to receive the right service at the right time.

Responding to the verdict, Chief Officer for Children’s Services Jo Olson said:

“Clearly this is not the outcome we wanted nor were expecting.

“As a service, we fully accept Ofsted’s findings and acknowledge that we have let down some of our most vulnerable older care leavers and we are fully committed to working fast to improve the way we help and support them. This work has already begun.

“We also recognise that there is always more to do to improve our social work practice such as the way we intervene more decisively in serious cases of child neglect and we will be working hard to address this.

“But it is also important that this devastating outcome does not totally obscure the many strengths and improvements we have made in Devon over the past few years which were also recognised in this inspection.

“In particular, we have taken great strides in our approach to child protection and safeguarding, early help, fostering, in partnership working and many other areas.

“We also have a dedicated and committed frontline staff who work well alongside our partners in schools, in the health service and the police to make the difficult decisions and fine judgement calls needed every day to help protect and support thousands of vulnerable young people and their families.

“We have said all along that we want our Children’s Services in Devon to be considered ‘good’ and although this outcome is clearly a major setback, this remains our mission and we will do everything necessary to get back on the road to achieving that.”

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