Failing children’s services to be taken over, PM announces

14 Dec 15

Councils with poorly performing children’s social services will have the departments taken over by other authorities or charities under plans set out by David Cameron today.

The prime minister said children’s services in some councils were failing vulnerable children and the government could no longer stand by while they were let down by inadequate provision.

Under the proposals, children’s services that have been consistently poorly rated by Ofsted will be taken over immediately by high-performing councils, while a new formal regime for intervention will also be established. This will replace current ad-hoc arrangements for intervention.

The proposals are based on the academy intervention system for schools.  Any local authority rated inadequate will have six months to show significant improvement or be taken over. In addition to high-performing authorities and charities, experts in child protection could be brought in to turn children’s services around. Improvement arrangements could include higher-performing authorities acting as sponsors or the creation of trusts to take over services.

Triggers will also be put in place for emergency Ofsted inspections where there are concerns about an authority’s performance. This could include complaints from whistleblowers or evidence of poor leadership.

Cameron said children’s services support some of the most vulnerable in society.

He said: “[These children] are in our care; we, the state, are their parents; and we are failing them. It is our duty to put this right; to say poorly performing local authorities: improve, or be taken over. We will not stand by while children are let down by inadequate social services.”

These reforms would be as “transformative” as the expansion of the academies programme in the last parliament, he added.

“It shows how serious we are about confronting state failure and tackling some the biggest social problems in our country. Together we will make sure that not a single child is left behind.”

In the first intervention under the plans, Sunderland’s children’s services will become a voluntary trust established by Nick Whitfield, the chief executive of the Achieving for Children social care spin out from the London boroughs of Kingston upon Thames and Richmond.

New leaders will also be appointed to tackle failings in Norfolk and Sandwell children’s services, while over £100m will be invested in social work recruitment.

Ministers will also work with six high-performing authorities or groups – Richmond & Kingston; Leeds; Durham; North Yorkshire; Hampshire; and the London tri-borough of Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea – to give them additional freedoms.

Isabelle Trowler, chief social worker for children and families, said the announcements mean that the landscape for child and family social work would be changing fast.

“It is imperative that we, as a profession, step up to the mark and play a leading role in its design and delivery.”

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said it was right to draw on the expertise of the strongest authorities to improve areas where services were not good enough.

But president Alison O’Sullivan said there would be more to improvement than simply changing structures.

“Parallel to this lies the need for increases in demand to be met with adequate financial resources,” she said.

“Even with the closure of many children's centres and youth services we still face a funding shortfall and we risk losing capacity in the system to prevent problems from escalating to a point beyond repair. This must be urgently addressed, we owe it to our children, to our young people and to their families.”

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