Multi-agency children’s services inspection highlights areas for improvement

Agencies supporting children who are missing or at risk of exploitation in Dorset say they are committed to working better together. This comes after inspectors highlighted that partnership working needs to improve.

In May 2018, Government bodies carried out a joint inspection across the county. It spanned social care, police, health, youth offending and probation services and centred on how agencies work together – both as a partnership and as individual organisations.

They looked at how agencies deal with referrals when children may be in need or at risk of significant harm. They also reviewed leadership and management and examined several individual cases.

In their report, inspectors highlighted both strengths and areas for improvement but said that ‘multi-agency working is not always effective and Dorset children face negative experiences due to ineffective partnership working’.

They said that there is 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.

Sarah Elliott, independent Chair of the Dorset Safeguarding Children Board (DSCB), said: “Although the inspection recognised areas of good practice by individual agencies, it reinforced how vital it is that all organisations work together to make sure children are safe.

“Vulnerable children who go missing or who are at risk of being exploited should expect to be protected from harm. The DSCB is independently reviewing the practice and service offered to children to make sure improvements are made.”

The inspection was carried out by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), HMI Constabulary Fire and Rescue Service and HMI Probation.

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.
  • joint working to deliver early help through Family Partnership Zones, which are made up of professionals from all agencies in local areas. Inspectors said it’s a ‘key vehicle’ in identifying families in need of early help and then offering support in the local community.

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

Nick Jarman, Director for Children’s Services at Dorset County Council, 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.”

Superintendent Fiona Grant, Public Protection Lead for Dorset Police, said: “Protecting and safeguarding children is a core priority for Dorset Police. The force continues to invest in dedicated teams that investigate criminal exploitation of children, child sexual exploitation (CSE) and abuse, and safeguarding children identified as at risk.

“The Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) was established to strengthen and speed up information sharing, joint decision making and forming an understanding of the needs of the child and family, and we are pleased that the report recognises that good work.

“We will continue to work with our partner agencies to ensure that as a group we provide the best service possible to protect children who are at risk. In many areas we have already strengthened partnerships and improved the way we work together, but we are not complacent and will take any opportunity to help ensure that areas for improvement are acted upon.”

Vanessa Read, Director of Nursing and Quality for NHS Dorset CCG, said: “Health and social care partners across Dorset regularly work closely together along with other agencies, but there is always room for improvement as the report has shown.

“We recognise this and are pleased to say that we have already started making improvements in the way we work with cases like those identified in the report, in order to ensure children who are considered at risk are given the support they need.”

David Webb, Service Manager for the Dorset Combined Youth Offending Service, said: “Although we are pleased that the inspectors praised the work of the Youth Offending Service, we know that effective multi-agency working is essential for young people to be protected from exploitation. We are working with our partner agencies to strengthen our collaborative working and to improve outcomes for teenagers at risk.”

Agencies need to submit their joint improvement plan by 16 October 2018.