SERVICES to safeguard children from sexual abuse in Bracknell Forest have been commended after inspectors found the council was “punching above its weight”.

A number of professionals from Ofsted, the care quality commission, and other inspectorates heaped praise on services in Bracknell which support vulnerable children, having discovered that a “culture of creativity, reflection and active problem-solving” is helping to keep young people safe.

As a result of the joint targeted area inspection (JTAI), the national bodies recommended that no immediate action needs to be taken to change practices in Bracknell’s multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), meaning a re-inspection is not needed because inspectors were satisfied with what they saw.

Councillor Dr Gareth Barnard, executive member for children, young people and learning at Bracknell Forest Council, said: “We always welcome feedback from inspectors on how we’re performing and the JTAI gives us lots of information to further scope out development in this highly sensitive and incredibly important area.

“We’re pleased inspectors found our collective approach to be strong and robust and that children are safeguarded appropriately. This is testament to how hard our staff and staff at our partner agencies work together to ensure children in the borough remain safe. We’re not complacent though and know we must always continue to improve so all children remain safe from harm. This is an absolute priority and why we welcome the report and its findings.”

Inspectors listed a number of areas within services which they were impressed with, including strong relationships between leaders and social workers and between agencies and the voluntary sector to support children.

They applauded the council’s leadership team for ensuring that “as a smaller local authority, they have a voice and influence equal to larger authorities and describe this as successfully ‘punching above their weight’”, meaning the agencies had “clear oversight and direction”.

Senior agency members were said to have a good understanding of the experiences of individual vulnerable children, outlining their understanding that sexual abuse in the family can often be hidden and their understanding of the effects this abuse can have on children.

A report produced by the inspectors also outlined that they were pleased to see that work is underway to improve “current limitations” in MASH, including developing plans to create a more joined-up approach between the council, the NHS and other groups.

Bracknell was visited by inspectors in January 2019 and while there, inspectors learned about a young boy who was placed on a child protection plan which outlined how he needed to be protected from sexual abuse within one week of having met with the agencies.

The council has a “clear and current assessment” of the boy, and the report claimed his school’s staff and his social worker have developed positive relationships with him and his family.

Despite no immediate action being required by the authorities, a number of suggestions have been made by the inspectors where the services could be improved still.

The report highlighted that “a small number of children do not receive a consistently good service and more work needs to be done to improve consistency.”

It is suggested that the council should use the contributions of other agencies to make sure that planning is supported by all the information possible, but the report also points out that there is a “disproportionate pressure” on BFC to undertake most of the work when concerns are forwarded to the council by the police without any initial risk assessment.

Inspectors also heard about a young girl whose case had “significant gaps” in information-sharing between authorities “from the outset” of her case being reported.

A relative of the girl made disclosures at their school about potential sexual abuse, but this information was not shared between agencies immediately.

Further details of known offending behaviour of an adult family member had also not been taken into account, meaning not all agencies were invited to contribute to the strategy discussion going forward with the girl.

The report claims risk to the girl was not properly assessed and and there is “limited evidence of a positive impact” for the girl from the agencies interventions.

Moving on from the report, the director of children’s services at BFC is set to send a letter before 20 June 2019 which will set out what the authorities plan to do in response to the findings of the inspectors.