A COUNSELLOR for students and young people has warned there is a real risk of children coming to harm if BCP Council does not urgently address a raft of failings.

Jeff Hanna, of Bournemouth-based STSCounselling, said a response to the concerns he has raised left him with no confidence children will have better safeguarding in the near future.

BCP Council has been ordered to take action to tackle problems with its children’s services after the department was rated inadequate by Ofsted.

The local authority has set out its plans to improve under the stewardship of new director of children’s services Cathi Hadley, while Hampshire County Councils’ former director John Coughlan was appointed as an improvement advisor.

Mr Hanna wrote to BCP Council leader Drew Mellor, and shared his letter with all councillors, calling for action.

This included following the advice of Mr Coughlan in full, the council taking all additional steps necessary, such as extra funding, to address the “serious shortcomings” and “reinvigorated” political leadership with a new cabinet member for children’s services.

“Leaving the safety of vulnerable children to others should not be an option for any councillor,” Mr Hanna said.

Bournemouth Echo: Counsellor Jeff HannaCounsellor Jeff Hanna

“Knowing the long-term consequences and mental health issues that arise from children living in challenging family circumstances, my hope would be that the Council determines not just to improve the children’s services department to Ofsted’s minimum of ‘adequate’, but to achieve ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, in Ofsted terms. However, there is a critical bottom line.

“You will no doubt be aware of the recent horrific case of a five-year-old boy, Logan Mwangi, in South Wales, beaten to death by his mother, step-father, and a teenager, after the local authority failed to identify him as a victim of abuse.

“The inadequacies set out in the Ofsted reports leave open the real risk that this could happen here.”

BCP Council said Mr Coughlan’s appointment was an “important and positive” next step in work to improve children’s services. He is supporting the council in developing and implementing “robust, realistic and achievable plans”.

Bournemouth Echo: Mr Hanna wrote to BCP Council leader Drew MellorMr Hanna wrote to BCP Council leader Drew Mellor

In response to Mr Hanna’s letter, a BCP Council spokesperson told the Daily Echo: “The DfE advisor has started working with us and chaired the first Improvement Board on the 22 April which was attended by DfE representative, BCP Council leader, chief executive, and multi-agency partners. BCP Council's children’s services is also being supported by Hampshire County Council as their sector lead improvement partner.

“Whilst the report identified areas that required improvement, Ofsted also recognised that the key building blocks are in place to drive improvements and highlighted where services are showing progression and working successfully.

"These include, safeguarding children with disabilities effectively, supporting young people who are vulnerable to criminal and sexual exploitation and making sure that children in our care have a secure base in long-term care.”

Mr Hanna was emailed by Cllr Mellor with the same response sent to the Daily Echo.

The counsellor said this response was “stuff a press office puts out, not a caring councillor”.

“No personal touch,” he said. “No acknowledgement of failure in the past.

“It might as well have been about the council’s highways department, not children who are suffering neglect, abuse, or worse.

“Cllr Mellor hasn’t answered why the Cabinet Member remains in post, when that Cabinet Member has so clearly failed to deal with the failures of the Children’s Services department highlighted back in 2020.”

“He says nothing about specific actions that are being taken to improve our care for children. Nothing about additional funding, more staff, better training or any organisational change.”