Every part of Cardiff Youth Offending Service (YOS) has been rated “inadequate” by inspectors.
It was given the lowest possible performance rating by HM Inspectorate of Probation and told to improve every aspect of its work.
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “These findings are very disappointing.”
But he was encouraged with the response since, including a new independent chair to lead the management board.
A routine inspection was organised, which included health, police, education and social care inspectorates at the YOS, which is based in Cardiff council’s children’s services directorate and works in partnership with local agencies.
It looked at 12 different aspects and for the first time found every part “inadequate”.
- “Serious concerns” about senior leadership and structure
- Management had no clear vision and board members were unsure of their roles and responsibilities, with a limited understanding of the challenges faced by children under their supervision
- Widespread poor practice and more work should have been done to ensure the safety of children and protect the public
- Gaps in provision, which included having no health professional for 18 months and no education worker for nine months
- Staff inductions were poor, policies and procedures outdated, and there were training gaps
- Cases were allocated to staff in an unstructured way and middle managers were so stretched that they could not supervise work effectively
The inspectors were so concerned they raised an alert into problems with safeguarding and public protection around three specific cases.
Looking at other cases, inspectors found the level of risk facing some children was underestimated.
The national mechanism to protect children being groomed by adults in “county lines” drug operations was also not used sufficiently, leaving some children at risk of exploitation or potentially posing a risk to others.
This report makes uncomfortable reading on a number of levels.
Half the children being supported had been involved in violence against a person.
A growing number are involved in drugs too – and the reoffending rate was far higher than the average across England and Wales.
In Cardiff it is 54.4% – compared to a 38.4% average across England and Wales.
But the inspection also highlights the systems in place to protect children from being groomed into county lines drugs supply were not being sufficiently used. Children were not getting the right support to keep them safe.
Nor was the risk some of these children posed to the wider public adequately addressed. Case managers consistently underestimated the risks they posed.
Indeed, key policies and guidance were out of date – some referred to legislation that is now obsolete.
Worryingly, management had been told all of this – several times – and yet inspectors found little evidence of attempts to change things.
Mr Russell said: “The actions taken since the inspection by senior managers in Cardiff encourage us to believe that they will act on our recommendations to improve the service, but there is a great deal of work to do.
“We, and our partner inspectorates, will closely monitor their progress to ensure they implement the recommendations in this report.”
On Tuesday, Cardiff public services board, chaired by the council leader, unveiled a two-year plan to transform its youth justice services to bring about “sustained and lasting improvement”.
“This will mean better outcomes for the children in the youth justice system,” it said.
“That increased effectiveness is also about reducing offending and is in the interests of victims.”