Bradford Council ‘committed to supporting front-line staff’ in transition to children’s trust
Bradford children's services are to be placed into a Children’s Trust following recommendations made by the Commissioner.
Failing Bradford’s children’s social care services are to be placed into a Trust following recommendations made to the Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, by the Children’s Services Commissioner in Bradford.
The announcement follows the murder of 16-month old Star Hobson, where shortcomings were found in the management of children’s services.
Steve Walker, formerly Director of Children’s Services in Leeds, was brought in by the Department for Education (DfE) last September to review the city council’s progress in attempting to turn around its inadequate children’s services.
However, after three months, Walker recommended that the council’s children’s services be placed into an independent not-for-profit trust, which will be owned by Bradford Council but operate at arms-length under the control of a new independent Chair and Board of Directors. The summary of the report, published by the DfE, stated that while the Commissioner did not look specifically at the Star Hobson case, he did investigate broader longstanding management issues at the council.
The DfE hopes that the new model will “drive rapid improvements” in children’s services in the area.
“Keeping vulnerable children safe from harm is non-negotiable. Where a council is not meeting its duty to do this, we will take action to protect children and put their needs first,” Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said.
The decision follows “positive and collaborative discussions” with leaders at Bradford Council, who have voluntarily agreed to the move in recognition of the challenges it has faced since its children’s services were rated inadequate by Ofsted in 2018.
“It’s clear from the recommendations made by the Commissioner in Bradford that the council needs support to improve and so I’m pleased that Bradford council have agreed to establish a new trust that will bring positive change for the council and independent oversight that drives improvements,” Zahawi added.
Walker’s review of the state of children’s services in Bradford set out to identify immediate and ongoing improvements, recommend any additional support to deliver those improvements, and assess the Council’s capacity and capability to improve itself or whether an alternative arrangement should be put in place.
It noted that leaders in Bradford recognise the challenges for children and young people in Bradford and ‘acted promptly’ to ensure children’s services have the resources required for improvement and that recent progress had been made – however, it concluded that the council lacked the capacity and capability to improve services at pace on its own and recommended an alternative delivery model to support improvement in services and outcomes for vulnerable children in Bradford’s care.
Council leaders confirmed they have asked the Government to collaborate with them to create a commissioner-led improvement board. This will include the appointment of an independent non-executive commissioner to lead the council through the transition period while the new trust is established.
The Council was initially rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in October 2018, which found its services for children had “rapidly deteriorated” since the previous inspection due to increased demand for services at the same time as the loss of a significant number of experienced social workers and managers.
An improvement plan has been in place in the Council since December 2018, but repeat visits from Ofsted noted a “slow pace” of change.
Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council, admitted that the pace of improvement had not been fast enough.
“We have worked hard, through the pandemic, to improve children’s services and Government Commissioner Steve Walker has recognised this.
“Our commitment is evident in the significant investment in services and wider intensive support from across the Council but we know the pace of improvement needs to quicken.
Hinchcliffe said working with the DfE going forward will bring greater investment and support, as well as certainty for staff over the future direction of services.
“Inevitably this will take time and we’re acutely conscious that there can be no pause in our improvement journey.
“Our front-line staff are key to this – we recognise the hard work social care staff do every day, entering homes in some of the most challenging circumstances in our society, and we are committed to supporting them.”
The importance of front-line staff was also highlighted by the Education Secretary, who described the decision as an “important moment for children and families in Bradford, and for social workers and other professionals who want to create meaningful and effective relationships with them.”
“These professionals take highly complex decisions each day to protect children, and I am grateful for the effort that goes into each one,” Zahawi said.
The DfE says that since May 2010, where the Government has provided support, 51 local authorities have been lifted out – and stayed out - of intervention, including eight trusts set up to run children’s services that had been underperforming.
The council-owned trust model has been used in several other local areas, including in Sunderland, one of the most deprived councils in England, where services went from Inadequate to Outstanding in three years – however, other examples have had more mixed results.
The DfE confirmed that a separate independent Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel will now consolidate the Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review for Star Hobson into its national review of the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes to identify local and national improvements needed by safeguarding agencies. It said this decision is supported by the Bradford safeguarding partnership, with the Panel’s Review due to be published in May 2022.
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