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Poorly performing children’s services face takeover

Prime minister unveils radical reforms to improve performance of children’s services

Local authority children’s services that persistently perform poorly will be taken over immediately, under government reforms unveiled by David Cameron.

The prime minister announced a number of measures and stated that ‘failing’ children’s services will be given six months to improve or face being taken over by highly performing children’s services, child protection experts or charities which will act as sponsors or form ‘trusts’ to turn services around.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Children’s services support the most vulnerable children in our society. They 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.”

Historically, children’s services have been taken over on an ad hoc basis and there has been no clear national response to services judged as failing. Under Cameron’s proposals, a formalised academy style system will be introduced so that any local authority judged as inadequate by Ofsted has to show “significant improvement” within six months or face being taken over with a new service leader or commissioner put in place.

Emergency Ofsted inspections can be ordered under the reforms where there are concerns about an authority’s performance raised by complaints from whistle-blowers or evidence of poor leadership.

Sunderland children’s services will become a voluntary trust to take immediate action to improve Sunderland’s performance following a very poor Ofsted inspection in July which found widespread failure of leadership. Failings in Norfolk and Sandwell children’s services will be tackled by new service leaders.

The prime minister added: “This will be one of the big landmark reforms of this Parliament, as transformative as what we did in education in the last. And 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.”

Further measures unveiled by Cameron included an urgent review of Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards and the centralisation of Serious Case Reviews to ensure lessons are learned from serious incidents.

There will also be a drive from the government to recruit new trust sponsors from the charity sector to help deliver innovative children’s services. It will also work with six of the country’s best local authorities, North Yorkshire, Hampshire, Tri-borough (Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea), Leeds, Durham and Richmond & Kingston to give academy style freedoms to high-performing authorities.

In addition £100m funding was revealed to attract more high calibre graduates into social work.

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children welcomed the announcement: “The safety and wellbeing of children and young people is our absolute priority. Partnerships are the way forward and any partnership under these proposals will need appropriate safeguards and an understanding of what works for children. Working with local authorities, charities with relevant expertise are well placed to provide innovative solutions at a time of increasing need and reduced resources.”

However, Cllr Roy Perry, Chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, issued concerns: “Across the country, social workers are striving to improve the lives of vulnerable children and work closely together to maximise expertise and knowledge. Where change is needed, learning from within the sector from the best councils is paramount.  If extra external assistance is required, it must only be for a period of time to help bring a council back on its feet.

"It is right that the best performing councils are able to support those struggling. However, it is important that capacity and resources are fully provided as transforming a hugely complex child protection system takes time and additional funding.  Evidence suggests that transforming services often takes longer than six months and a flexible approach is required,” he warned.

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