On 25 November Ofsted published its Single Inspection Framework report after visiting Kirklees. The inspection looked at local services for children in need of help and protection, looked after children and care leavers and the independent Safeguarding Children Board and judged those to be ‘inadequate’.
Ofsted did report that significant changes have been made since the Council acknowledged that there were significant issues, and they recognised that we have a “clear, long-term vision of services for children and families”. They also identified a good strategic approach across partners to Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), responses to concerns about radicalisation and violent extremism and support to foster carers.
However, the report also highlighted a number of known concerns about standards of practice in Kirklees and gave us an overall judgement of ‘inadequate’. We had expected this, and the report does not identify any issues that we didn’t already have in view.
An internal review back in May had highlighted serious issues with social work practice and management oversight. This was also covered at the time in a public Cabinet report. This covered the steps that had been taken since the establishment of a Development Board to oversee a comprehensive and rigorous improvement plan on behalf of the Cabinet and Council. The Ofsted report confirms that our priorities for improvement are the right ones and recognises the steps taken already.
But our response to this is not just a Children’s Services response. We know that the Council cannot deliver the outcomes that we want for children in Kirklees without a whole Council response and a whole Partnership response.
We held an event recently at the John Smith’s Stadium to remind ourselves of our child-centred values, to re-group around our vision for Children’s Services and agree how we are going to work together to give children the best start in life and keep them safe from harm, building on the partner input that we’ve had into the development board for some time.
We have a shared responsibility with our partners to protect and support children, and it was pleasing to see numerous representatives from police, health, schools and the third sector at our “Putting Children First” event, all speaking openly about their commitment to working jointly to resolve the issues we face. We will not accept poor standards, and we know that to meet the needs of children in the best way we can, we need to put them at the centre of everything we do. In Kirklees, we often work at our best when faced with a challenge, and we’ll be drawing on the goodwill and energy evident in the room to get things done.
Following publication of our Ofsted report, the Department for Education (DfE) have appointed a Commissioner named Eleanor Brazil to work with us.
We had our first meeting with Eleanor last week. It was an initial conversation about the process of working with a Commissioner.
Eleanor is experienced and respected for her work with children’s services at other local authorities. She will be with us through to the end of March, at which point she will make a recommendation to the DfE about the future of Children’s Services in Kirklees.
The Commissioner will:
- Make recommendations for the immediate improvement of Children’s Social Care, including additional support required.
- Review our leadership and management capability and capacity to drive the changes we need.
- Make a recommendation to the Secretary of State about whether alternative arrangements would be the most effective way of achieving long-term improvement.
She will make a judgement about whether Children’s Services will remain within the Council or be outsourced to a Children’s Trust arrangement. There is a national policy drive for Children’s Services to be outsourced but, where Councils have shown a strong political and corporate commitment to support improvement with the appropriate resources, services have remained within the Council.
The Ofsted report did highlight that we are focusing on the right priorities. We are confident that we’ll be able to show several areas where further improvements have been made since the inspection.