THE quality of BCP Council's children's services still have "serious and widespread" weaknesses which are leaving vulnerable children at risk of harm.

Watchdog Ofsted rated the local authority department as inadequate, with a raft of damning issues.

A full inspection of BCP Council's children's services took place in December just more than a year after a focused inspection unearthed that "fundamental building blocks required for children to get the right help at the right time were missing, almost in entirety".

In 2020, Ofsted said children living in the conurbation were not protected effectively. Senior leaders were aware of some of the deficits but not taken purposeful remedial action.

Following the inspection in December 2021, a report by lead inspector Steve Lowe, which was published this morning, said: "There has been progress since then despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the complexities of local government reorganisation. The creation of new specialist services and strengthened infrastructure are starting to make a positive difference, but it is too early to see an impact for a large number of children and their families.

"There remain too many areas where progress has been neither sufficiently swift nor decisive. The application of quality assurance processes does not give senior leaders a reliable or accurate picture of the quality of social work practice. 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.

"There are still serious and widespread weaknesses in the quality of children’s services that leave vulnerable children at risk of harm.

"Specialist services aside, the core business of reducing the risks to children in need of help and protection is yet to have a consistent and effective impact."

In response to the inspection, BCP Council chiefs said raising the standard of children's social care is a top priority as work to drive improvement continues.

The council accepted that the Ofsted report was balanced and fair.

A key priority for the local authority will be recruiting and retaining skilled front-line social workers and team managers and to reduce the numbers of agency staff. This is a national issue which many other councils across the country are facing in attracting experienced and skilled staff to the sector. A recruitment drive is currently underway, the council said.

Praise was given to the Edge of Care team who were noted as a valuable resource and that the Private Fostering team safeguard children well. The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers was judged as requiring improvement to be good. In other areas, inspectors acknowledged that progress was being made.

Cathi Hadley, BCP Council’s new permanent director of children’s services, said: “Improving Children’s Social Care services in BCP Council is my top priority and I’m determined we will reach a level where all of our children, young people and families are receiving good quality and consistent services across the board. I have achieved this in previous councils where I have worked, and I can see that the building blocks for future success are already in place.

"We have a clear plan for improvement, we know where we need to make changes and how we need to get there.

"I’m confident about leading our committed teams all the way on our improvement journey. improvement is never simple or straight-forward and our improvement plan is a marathon rather than a sprint. It will take sustained effort over time to achieve our ambitions. However, the best response to a critical inspection report is to roll up our sleeves and get on with it. That is precisely what we are doing.”

Councillor Mike White, BCP Council's portfolio holder for children’s social care, said: “We have already implemented some of Ofsted’s recommendations for further improvement and we will work with the government and our local partner agencies to deliver what is now required of us.

"We remain determined to improve our services to the point where they are judged as good, and I will also be asking council later this month for significant budget increases to support our improvement journey.

"I am proud of our staff who have made many positive changes already. Like me, they know we have much more to do, but with strong leadership, a skilled and committed workforce and a clear improvement plan, I am confident we are heading in the right direction.”