Bristol City Council bosses admit vulnerable teenagers have “fallen through the cracks”

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Council bosses have admitted a series of failures affecting vulnerable young people in the care system

Bristol City Council bosses have admitted a series of failures affecting vulnerable young people in the care system.

Teenagers who need vital support have “fallen through the cracks” as they move from being looked after by children’s services to adult social care when they turn 18, a probe has found.

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Internal auditors discovered some youngsters requiring ongoing care had not been identified and that delays in assessments affecting almost 150 youngsters “made it difficult to demonstrate that young people’s needs are being met”.

They found nine “key weaknesses” including “no documented process or criteria” for when referrals should be made and that the two council departments had “no common understanding of the transition process” when a youth needs to move from one to the other.

City Hall chiefs accepted the findings and took “immediate action” to make improvements, including joining two “fractured” teams in the Young Adult Transition Service (YATS) together, one of which oversaw under-18s and the other 18 to 25-year-olds.

Internal auditors gave a finding of “limited assurance” – the second lowest of four ratings – that the system was working as it should.

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Their report to a council meeting said young people aged 16 in care were entitled to support up to the age of 21, or in some cases 25, and that the responsibility for that moved from children’s services to adult social care at 18, so a “timely needs assessment is imperative”.

But it said auditors raised four high- and five medium-priority findings.

The report said: “Internal audit were unable to confirm that all young people requiring transition support had been identified and were preparing for transition.

“There was no documented process or criteria to affirm when young people should be referred for transition.

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“There were delays in assessments for young people referred for transition; in March 2023 there were waiting lists of 46 transition assessments and 99 Care Act assessments for the YATS (under 18) and YATS (18-25) respectively.

“There was no common understanding of the transition process between Children, Families and Safer Communities (CFS), or Adult Social Care (ASC); there was little evidence of supervision in the sample of cases internal audit reviewed.

“There was no common understanding of the roles which CFS and ASC teams should play in the transition process.

“Delays in assessments made it difficult to demonstrate that young people’s needs are being met and that value for money is being achieved.”

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It said three different computer systems were used to manage cases but were not joined up and that there were poor links between children’s services and adult social care to “confirm the number of young people that need to transition, are transitioning or have transitioned in a given time period; there was no forecasting of future demand”.

But the report said the decision by managers to combine the two YATS teams – part of an action plan to tackle the problems – had halved the waiting list as of August.

Internal audit manager Phil Eames told the audit committee: “We were asked to review the transition of young people in care between children and adults services.

“Colleagues in those services were already aware there were issues with that transition journey and had already commissioned a project to address those acknowledged issues.

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“The project is now underway and we are attending the project board to provide oversight.”

Director of adult social care Mette Le Jakobsen said: “We felt there was a need to take some immediate actions in response to the internal audit.

“The team was operating in two halves – one for under-18s and one for over-18s – so one of the first actions we took was to join those two together to make better use of our resources, and through that we have been able to very significantly reduce the waiting list.

“We brought some additional resource into the team.

“One of the things we had concerns about was oversight and the capacity they had, so we introduced an additional team member to strengthen the oversight.”

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Director of children & families services Fiona Tudge said: “The report was grouped into two main themes – the data and insight, and the protocol and processes around that work.

“Together they were having an impact on young people and their families at this significant point in their lives.

“We have taken both strategic and tactical actions to address those.”

She said the team had now checked the needs of 80 per cent of teens in the council’s care who might need continued support from adult social care.

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“We want to make sure we get this right, and we use best practice, research and evidence from other local authorities,” Fiona said.

Cllr David Wilcox (Green, Lockleaze) asked if they had an idea of the scale of young people who “fell through the cracks”.

Mette said the service had identified 1,690 young people who could require adult social care but that this was a worst-case scenario and not everyone would, although she did not have figures for how many who needed to move from children to adult care had not been picked up.

Cllr John Geater (Conservative, Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston) said the issues had affected families in his ward.

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“One of the complaints was they fell through the cracks – it was their 16th birthday and then they were in limbo,” he said.

Mette said: “What we are trying to achieve is to identify people from the age of 14.

“If we do so, we have them in our sights and we would know exactly who they are and when to step in.”

Asked by committee chairman Cllr Andrew Brown (Lib Dem, Hengrove & Whitchurch Park) if the main reason for the failures was the lack of one person overseeing the children-to-adult services transition, Mette said: “There wasn’t one main contributory reason.

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“There were multiple reasons which were both about management oversight and about data and our insights and our ability to identify, but it was also systemically quite fractured because it was sitting between children and adult services.

“That fracturing is probably where most of the root causes fit in.”

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