‘WIDESPREAD and serious weaknesses’ in children’s services have been criticised in a damning Ofsted report.

The report, published yesterday morning rated the services in West Sussex ‘inadequate’ in all areas and said there had been a ‘serious decline’ since the last inspection.

Inspector Linda Steele examined the system over a three-week period and gave the county council a long list of areas which needed to improve.

The Department for Education will appoint a commissioner to work with the council to ensure the improvements are put in place.

In her report, Ms Steele said the quality of help and support received by children was ‘a lottery and depends on where they live’.

She added: “Most social work practice is weak.

“Risks to children are seldom recognised, and social workers do not see children frequently enough.

“Children’s views are not often included in assessments and plans, and their records are rarely up to date.”

Responding to the report, leader Louise Goldsmith acknowledged that the council was ‘letting down children and families who need our help most’.

She added: “It is unacceptable – we are very sorry and bitterly disappointed.

“At the end of last year, we were aware services were fragile and announced a £5m investment programme to make urgent improvements.

“That work is still under way but as the inspectors have found, we are a long way from delivering the services vulnerable children and families of West Sussex deserve.

“I want to reassure residents that we will continue to do everything that is necessary to change our services for the better.

“The voices of our children need to be central to everything we do.

“And to that end I have already made significant changes to the Corporate Parenting Panel.”

In 2016 the council was told it must improve the way it looks after vulnerable children and young people.

Ofsted inspectors raised concerns about West Sussex County Council’s service for children in need of help, looked-after children and care-leavers.

In particular inspectors raised concerns about care-leavers living in bed-and-breakfasts and not being in education, work or training.

They also criticised how the local authority follows-ups missing people.

They said some recommendations from previous reports had not been followed through and the council did not have a detailed grasp on the scale of issues such as sexual exploitation and child trafficking.