I was dismayed, but sadly not surprised to read yesterday that Ofsted have awarded the London Borough of Wandsworth an “inadequate” rating for their children’s services. This is the lowest possible rating that can be awarded by Ofsted, meaning that children in their borough have been put at serious risk of harm.

The findings of the report are even more shocking when read alongside the report published on 27 June 2012, where all of the services were rated as either “good” or “outstanding”. The decline in children’s services at this local authority has been so dramatic in the last 3 ½ years, it begs the question; how have things gone so wrong so quickly?

What the report says

The damning report was published on 16 February 2016. It concludes that overall, Children’s Services in Wandsworth are inadequate. The below table summarises their findings.

Click here to view table.

Children who need help and protection

The report says that the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection are inadequate and that “serious concerns across the service leave children at risk of harm”. Sadly, the failings by the Council are so extensive that there are too many to list here, but the main points are that social workers have not been investigating cases properly, which means that they are failing to recognise risks to children and intervene accordingly. The report also identifies unacceptable delays in visiting children, leaving these children subject to ongoing risk of harm.

As a solicitor in the child abuse department at Bolt Burdon Kemp I was particularly saddened to read in the report that the “practice relating to identifying and responding to young people at risk of child sexual exploitation is inconsistent and some young people have been left in potentially exploitative situations for too long”.

Such serious failings will have undoubtedly left numerous children at serious risk of harm.

Care leavers

The report makes it clear that the local authority has failed to adequately provide for young people leaving care. Too many are reported to have been placed in bed and breakfast accommodation for long periods of time and their safety and support needs have not been properly assessed by the local authority or provided for. This has resulted in too many young care leavers who are not in education, employment or training.

Leadership, management and governance

The leadership at the Council has also come under fire. Ofsted says, “leadership, management and governance are inadequate. Lack of effective scrutiny by senior leaders, elected members and managers at all levels [meant] that they were not aware of the serious deficits in practice for too many vulnerable children until this inspection”. Kathy Tracey, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, is reported to have said that the findings of the report are “incredibly disappointing” and a “wake-up call”.

However, the failings of the Council are so extensive that unfortunately I have little confidence that the current management have the capabilities to turn this dire situation around. I would suggest that serious consideration has to be given to replacing those people at the top, who have allowed so many children to be put at risk of serious harm.

Will this really be a wake-up call?

Sadly the London Borough of Wandsworth is not the only local authority to fail children in this country. At Bolt Burdon Kemp, our child abuse department regularly represents clients in claims against local authorities, where they have suffered significant harm as a result of the local authority’s widespread and significant failings.