THE head of children services has apologised to those let down by Surrey County Council after a damning report exposed “serious failings” within the department.

Children have been exposed to “chronic neglect and domestic abuse” with too many experiencing continued “harm for long periods of time before decisive protective actions are taken”, the report stated.

Inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) published their findings to a recent inspection last week making “grim reading” for the council and the families affected.

For the second time in four years SCC has been rated inadequate with inspectors noting senior leaders and elected members being “far too slow to accept and act on findings” from the 2014 inspection.

Responding to the report, cllr Clare Curran, said: “We absolutely accept we have been too slow to act and the efforts we have been putting in over last few years haven’t generated the progress we wanted to happen.

“I think we can say in cases where we have let children down we need to apologise to those families and we are committed to making changes to ensure that that doesn’t happen again.”

As of January 31 this year 6,120 children had been identified as being formally in need of specialist children’s service in Surrey with 985 children and young people being subject of a child protection plan and 930 being looked after. A staggering 445 (49%) of those in looked-after care have been placed outside of Surrey.

The report criticised managers for “serious shortcomings in frontline management oversight” and social workers for high numbers of “inappropriate referrals” to multi-agency partners.

It said children’s voices and views were not always effectively heard and that poor quality assessments meant some children had been “living in harmful situations for too long”.

Cllr Curran said: “I don’t think it’s appropriate to point the finger of blame at any one person. As a council we need to accept we are all responsible collectively and we all share a fundamental commitment to ensure we put this right for the future.”

The report mentioned risk of harm had not been identified and that children experienced “continued neglectful parenting, often including exposure to domestic abuse” leaving them to “long-term risk through corrosive damage to their social, emotional, physical and educational development”.

Cllr Curran said: “The report makes very grim reading and some of the messages in it are very hard to read but I think members and officers who work closely with children services will know it’s a fair reflection of the services that we deliver. We knew that there was so much more we could and should be doing for children and families in Surrey. It doesn’t make it easier when you read a report like this but it has reaffirmed my determination and commitment to lead this service out of this position we are in now and through to a better position.

“Children are the next generation. They are the future of this county and we absolutely must do the best for them and children in Surrey deserve better and I want that for them and for every child in Surrey.”

Dave Hill,  executive director for children, families and learning , was bought in three weeks ago and says it was the “grim” report that encouraged him to take the role and work to turn things around.

He hopes that with £20m investment into the service and a “prevention not cure” approach it will take about three years to bring the service up to outstanding standards.

His career includes working with children’s services in Essex, Birmingham, Somerset and Barnet including work as the government’s children commissioner.

He said he had a “bold plan for improving services” and would be looking to work with health visitors, schools and other partners to identify children who need help earlier.

He said: “People shouldn’t have to wait until things have gone badly wrong in their family situation.

“We have got to rebalance the system. There is too much work getting dealt with in crisis and not in a preventative way and at the heart of that is working with our partners to re-balance that work.”

He said there was some need for “some very tough talking” with partners and “candid” discussions on what needs to change.

This week is Foster Care Fortnight. Foster Carers were praised in the report for their work looking after children in care. And the adoption service received a good rating.

Mr Hill stressed now more than ever the message of needing more foster carers was highlighted.