THE new head of BCP Council’s children’s services apologised to families after Ofsted found the local authority department to be inadequate.

Childrens’s services at BCP Council were said to still have “serious and widespread” weaknesses in quality leaving vulnerable children at risk of harm.

A scathing full inspection from Ofsted said the core work of reducing risks was yet to have a “consistent and effective impact”.

Following a 12-day inspection in December, the findings of the watchdog were published yesterday.

Ofsted rated the local authority’s children’s services as inadequate for the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, and the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection.

The council was judged to be requires improvement to be good for the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers, with overall effectiveness as inadequate.

Cathi Hadley, BCP Council’s new permanent director of children’s services, told the Daily Echo: “None of us would want to put children at risk and none of us would want to leave children at risk and we absolutely apologise for not being able to move swiftly on some of those areas where Ofsted have found us lacking and we will be doing our utmost to address those issues now.

"I know we have already started that work and we are already concentrating on those areas where Ofsted had their most concerns.

“We have been through every single one of those cases before Ofsted left the building and reassured Ofsted that we ensured that those children were not left at risk.”

Councillor Mike White, portfolio holder for children and young people, said: “Obviously we are sorry for any families we have let down but it is important to note Ofsted didn’t actually identify any cases as being dangerous.”

Bournemouth Echo: Cllr Mike WhiteCllr Mike White

The full Ofsted inspection came just more than a year after a damning focused visit found “the fundamental building blocks required for children to get the right help at the right time were missing, almost in entirety”.

In 2020, it was deemed that children were not protected effectively and purposeful remedial action had not been taken.

Following the December 2021 inspection, lead inspector Steve Lowe said progress had been made with new specialist services and strengthened infrastructure starting to make a positive difference.

“There remain too many areas where progress has been neither sufficiently swift nor decisive,” said Mr Lowe.

“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.”

He added: “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.”

The murders of 16-month-old Star Hobson in West Yorkshire and six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes in the West Midlands were harrowing cases of domestic abuse in recent years.

The BCP Council Ofsted report said children are left in situations where they witness violence, as social workers lack the confidence and guidance to tackle perpetrators of domestic abuse and are often over-optimistic about parents’ capacity to change and to safeguard their children.

Mr Lowe said: “There is no coordinated response to risks to unborn babies or a clear message to staff about ‘how we do it here’.

“This is concerning, given the increase in harm to very young children during the pandemic and an increase in very young children on child protection plans.”

Bournemouth Echo: Addressing issues in children's services is BCP Council's "top priority", the administration has claimedAddressing issues in children's services is BCP Council's "top priority", the administration has claimed

Ms Hadley said: “We are all very concious of the very tragic circumstances of Star and Arthur and the impact that domestic violence between partners but also physical abuse of children had on both Arthur and Star.

“It is part of the improvement plan in concentrating in terms of people’s understanding of domestic violence. Domestic violence impacts on young children even them just being part of the household and witnessing that.

“We will be working with our team in terms of the training and support for social workers and what is it that we will be doing for domestic violence and how you work with children of families who are aggressive by nature and how as a worker we support them to manage that and not be afraid to confront and do what is necessary to protect children.”

Both Ms Hadley and Cllr White said there was a direction of travel to improve children’s services.

As a result of the inadequate rating, BCP Council’s children’s services will be placed under formal intervention, scrutiny and support by the Department of Education.

A series of monitoring visits will be carried out by Ofsted to focus on specific areas of the service.