AGENCIES supporting children who are missing or at risk of exploitation in Dorset have been told to improve following a joint inspection by government bodies.

Inspectors from Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), HMI Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services and HMI Probation undertook a joint inspection in May.

It spanned social care provided by Dorset County Council, youth offending and probation services, and the work of Dorset Police and Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The report assessed how the agencies work together when children may be in need or at risk of significant harm. It also reviewed leadership and management and examined several individual cases.

Inspectors found “Dorset children face negative experiences due to ineffective partnership working” and said there was a “significant gap” in some agencies’ understanding of the risks posed by gangs and ‘county lines’, which involves drug dealing networks using children to connect urban and rural areas across the UK. Inspectors said the partnership must put in place a mechanism to ensure intelligence is collected, shared, analysed and acted upon to provide an effective response.

They also said “of critical concern is the premature closure of work with children, particularly if this is because of the lack of engagement by the young person”.

The report highlighted a case study involving a “highly vulnerable” child who was out of education for over a year.

“A very recent assessment by social care services took too long, lacked depth and resulted in the child’s case being closed due to lack of the child’s engagement. This was despite concerns relating to possible sexual exploitation, likely criminal exploitation, non-school attendance, anti-social behaviour and drug use,” the report said.

It added the partnership “collectively failed to offer appropriate protective response for this child”, whose experience “exemplifies the area for priority action”.

Dorset County Council is now co-ordinating a multi-agency plan of improvements.

Nick Jarman, director for children’s services, said: “Ensuring that vulnerable children in Dorset are protected and safe is our top priority and we acknowledge that we need to improve the way we work.

“Not long after I joined Dorset County Council in October 2017, we put in place a rigorous audit programme to look at the quality of our children’s social care practice. As a result, we put in place a robust service improvement plan to address these issues. The inspection confirmed what our audits had shown and a number of improvements have already been implemented.

“We’ve also invited colleagues from health, police, probation, rehabilitation and youth offending to join our service improvement board, which oversees progress on the plan, to help strengthen partnership working and challenge our performance constructively.”

Inspectors did say there were some positive areas of joint working, including the work of partners through the multi-agency safeguarding hub – the single point of contact for all safeguarding concerns regarding children and young people in Dorset.