Government to appoint commissioner to council after slow improvement

A Government-appointed commissioner will oversee improvement at Bradford Council’s Children’s Services nearly three years on from its ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating.

04/08/21

Government to appoint commissioner to council after slow improvement

Children’s Minister Vicky Ford says that the Government will appoint a commissioner to oversee improvements Bradford Council’s children’s services.

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 have noted a “slow pace” of change.

The new commissioner is likely to be in post from September this year, with the potential for children’s services to be taken out of the Council’s control.

The announcement comes less than a week after the publication of a thematic review into Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in the district over the last 20 years.

The purpose of the review was to assess whether there are themes and patterns to abuse which the area’s safeguarding partnership can learn from, and whether there are issues around abuse of which leaders may not be aware.

The review, publication of which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was commissioned in April 2019 and carried out independently by Clare Hyde MBE. It was commissioned following the sentencing of nine men in 2019 to a total of 132 years’ and 8 months’ imprisonment following sexual exploitation of a child who had been in the care of the Council.

While the review found that there had been substantial improvements in practice since the response to the historic cases, it found that there were still lessons to be learned from more recent cases.

“Policy changes had been made in relation to CSE in all agencies, but this was not always seen in sustained practice changes,” the review stated, adding: “The short-term nature of funding for some CSE and family support services was also evident. This means that staff turnover can be high with experienced practitioners moving on to different roles or different areas. A further consequence of this is likely to be that ‘organisational memory’ across the system and learning from local SCRs and other reviews is lost too.”

However, a Department for Education spokesperson confirmed that the decision to appoint a commissioner to the council is a result of the Ofsted inspections, rather than the CSE report’s findings.

“Protecting vulnerable people, including children, should be any local authority’s top priority and we take the situation in Bradford very seriously,” the spokesperson said.

“When a council does not meet requirements to care for these children, we will not hesitate to take action that puts their needs first and brings about rapid improvement.”

Responding to the announcement, the Council told the Bradford Telegraph & Argus that £28 million had been invested into its Children's Services budget, as well as a one-off investment of £8 million.

“The Council will be meeting with representatives from the Department for Education and Ofsted over the coming days to establish what steps need to be taken under the Statutory Direction and how these will affect the services that are delivered to the most vulnerable children in the district,” a spokesperson said.

“Steps are already being taken to address the Minister’s concerns, including more support for families that are struggling so that their needs are met before they enter social care, extra training being arranged for staff, extra safeguarding expertise to scrutinise and check placements and additional HR, finance and IT support to help social work teams."

The Department for Education says it will continue discussions with Bradford Council on next steps to make the necessary improvements as quickly as possible.

Photo credit: Tim Green, Flickr

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