A report published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation following an inspection of Bradford youth offending team (YOT) said inspectors had raised “serious concerns” about the service’s performance.
The inspectorate rated the YOT as "requires improvement" but said its performance on eight of its 12 quality standards had been judged as "inadequate".
This meant the service had only been “rescued” from an overall inadequate rating by some “better-quality” work with out-of-court disposal cases.
The two-week inspection, which consisted of detailed assessments of 70 cases and interviews with case managers, found the YOT had undergone several changes of leadership, including senior managers and a change to the chair of the management board.
“This has resulted in a lack of both strategic vision and effective operational oversight. Board members did not provide scrutiny to the performance of the YOT,” the report states.
Inspectors said staff were working hard in the absence of leadership and structures to deliver effective services.
However, they concluded the YOT was not able to adapt and improve its services to meet the needs of the children and young people in Bradford because “it lacked the data to inform this”.
“There were some systemic failings across the partnership in meeting the safety and wellbeing needs of the children and young people, and in adequately protecting others from harm,” inspectors said.
The report highlights shortfalls in the assessment process which were not completed to a sufficient standard in more than half of all cases.
“In these cases, the assessment did not fully identify all the relevant factors associated with the risk of harm to others, and did not fully draw on all available information, which included past behaviours and convictions, or using all other agency information as required,” the report states.
It cites the case example of a young person whose gang-related activity was not recorded during an assessment.
A “significant incident” later occurred at the young person’s home, where a car was crashed through a garden fence and four masked men assaulted him and his father, resulting in an armed police response unit being called to the house.
“There were two children under five at the address who witnessed the offence. The assessment was not reviewed following this incident, and no further enquiries were made with either children’s social care or the police for more information in relation to the event,” the report states.
However, inspectors praised the YOT for its out-of-court disposal work which included “good use” of young people’s perspectives in assessments as well as doorstep curfews as a condition of youth conditional cautions.
It also flagged up its “good” restorative justice service for those victims willing to participate.
The report outlines key recommendations to improve the YOT’s performance, including staff training to complete comprehensive assessments that identify and plan for the safety and wellbeing, and risk of harm to others, of children and young people under its supervision.
The YOT manager should also make use of the information and data available across partner agencies and within the YOT to understand and respond to the needs of the children and young people being supervised.
Mark Douglas, the council’s strategic director of children’s services, said: “We fully accept the report’s findings and the service is acting on these urgently to ensure that improvements are made to practice and that young people in Bradford are safe.
“Our new senior leadership team was already aware of the areas of concern the report raises and we are now working closely with the police and other partners to ensure effective working arrangements are in place.”