CARE services for children with disabilities and special needs in Swindon are failing the very people they are supposed to be helping.

That is the damning verdict reached by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission inspectors in a new report highlighting significant concerns about the effectiveness of the services provided by the council and Swindon CCG.

Young people told inspectors they were advised to go and eat something nice or have a bath by frontline mental health services when in crisis. As a result of this poor advice, school staff reported an increasing number of pupils self-harming and at risk of suicide.

Angry and concerned parents and carers gave overwhelmingly-negative feedback about their experiences, suggesting that the future for these children was bleak.

The report said: "Young people who spoke to inspectors stated that they are left without the necessary support at a time when they need it most."

Incomplete and inaccurate care plans for children sometimes included misspelt names, lacked contributions from health and care professionals, and offered too-vague planned outcomes.

One cause of problems in the service was turbulence in staffing including a lack of designated clinical and medical officers, which negatively affected the quality of care provided, and those in charge were too slow to identify and tackle safety concerns.

Inspectors were informed that school nurses are told about students that are home-educated, but records proved that this was not true.

Some features, like offers of short breaks and use of the My Care, My Support option were not communicated well enough to parents, who didn’t know or understand that these features were available to them.

Poor school attendance, higher-than-average fixed-term exclusion rates, paediatrician appointments being cancelled without explanation, low educational attainment and children placed outside Swindon experiencing delays in having their needs identified were also pointed out by inspectors.

But they were pleased to see these issues had already been identified by the council and CCG, who promised to accelerate their implementation of reforms.

Mary Martin, cabinet member for children and school attainment, said: “We always strive to improve the services we provide for young people who need our help and these types of inspections play an important role in identifying areas where we need to do better, while also acknowledging the good work that is taking place.

“The inspection recognised that our self-assessment was accurate and there is much yet to do. We are heartened that the inspectors recognised that a lot of work is already well underway to ensure that the local area meets the disability and special educational needs reforms. Overall we very much need to up the pace of our improvement programme so we improve the outcomes for children and young people more quickly. We welcome the additional input to help us focus our efforts.

“I am particularly pleased the report recognises the commitment of frontline staff across the partnership, who do a great job and are already playing a key role in implementing the improvements that need to be made.”

Gill May, Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group’s director for nursing and transformation, said: “We are committed to making the improvements and build upon the good work that is taking place.”

“The report confirms the strength of partnership in Swindon and that the local area understands its strengths and priorities and is already working on the key issues identified.

“We are working closely with the council and with Swindon Families Voice, who represent families of children with special needs and disabilities, to ensure that families and children and young people are at the heart of the improvements that are made.”