Inspectors have condemned ‘serious failures’ in Devon’s children’s social care services that have some young people leaving care ending up sleeping in tents on the streets.

A January inspection of the service by Oftsted has seen it rated as ‘inadequate’ overall and in three of four categories.

In his report, inspector Steve Lowe said: “Until this inspection, senior leaders did not know about the extent of the failures to protect some of the most vulnerable children and young people from harm.

“They were unaware that a very small minority of their care leavers were or had been living in tents on the streets. These are not isolated incidents.

“In general, care leavers with the greatest needs, including struggles with their mental health, are left in unsuitable accommodation for too long because their corporate parents do not step in and act.”

He said the service for care leavers was inadequate at the last inspection in 2015 and although a visit in 2018 recognised some improvements, since then there has been a further decline.

He said some children who had suffered chronic neglect or emotional abuse were being left with families too long because social workers and their managers ‘lack clarity’ about when to take legal action.

He also said social workers were not gathering evidence of neglect systematically.

Devon currently works with nearly 5,000 children and young people and their families every year, including 700 in care and 440 older care leavers.

The council pointed out that the inspection recognised ‘notable improvements’ in child protection and safeguarding arrangements.

The report said its early help for children and families had been significantly strengthened, it has responded well to the increasing risk of child exploitation, it provided good support for children in long-term foster care and its specialist work with homeless young people and the operation of the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub or MASH are effective.

Putting it right

The council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, James McInnes, said they were determined to put things right.

He said: “Obviously, I am bitterly disappointed that we have let any vulnerable young person down.

“Any parent will recognise that trying to help a young person to become a thriving young adult able to stand on their own two feet can be a tough job. This is especially true of the most troubled and vulnerable of our care leavers who are living chaotic lives, and struggling with things like drug and alcohol or mental health issues.

“The cases highlighted by Ofsted are clearly extreme, but we fully recognise we have a duty of care to every single care leaver and as a corporate parent we must do more to reach out and wrap support around them better.

“I have every confidence in our senior managers and frontline staff to act fast and do what is needed to turn things around.”

‘Heads in the sand’

Frank Biederman, county councillor for Fremington in North Devon, said: “I am disappointed as our first and foremost job is to protect our most vulnerable residents and especially children, the administration has clearly failed to do that.

“They must stop burying their heads in the sand, we have had three or four inspections since 2013, none of which have been good.

“As a member of the children’s scrutiny committee, I will be calling on proper scrutiny of this report, to understand what actions are being taken and to put a plan together to move forward, even if we have to do it by conference call in these times.

“I also feel for frontline social workers, as I know they are working hard, with ever increasing case loads. In my opinion this is as a result of 10 years of government cuts.”

To read the full report CLICK HERE .