Council at risk of losing its child services

Education Secretary Michael Gove
Education Secretary Michael Gove

THE running of child protection services in Doncaster could be privatised as ‘troubleshooters’ launch a new investigation into the repeated failures to address its shortcomings.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced that the problem - highlighted by the Edlington torture case scandal - requires ‘significant action’ and two experts from London are being drafted in to sort out the ‘severe and longstanding’ problems.

Lawyers for the torture victims said the move was an ‘unheard of’ intervention.

Mr Gove has asked Prof Julian Le Grand, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, and Alan Wood, director of children’s services in Hackney, to review the structure and governance of children’s social care in Doncaster.

He wants them to decide the approach most likely to bring about long-term improvement, following a critical Ofsted report last November.

They are also being asked to consider whether the services should be delivered by an organisation independent of the council.

Mr Gove has told Doncaster Mayor Peter Davies: “Until any actions can be put in place following Prof Le Grand’s review, I see a need to put in place immediate improvement measures.

“I therefore also expect the council to contract immediately with an external delivery partner to provide the capability and capacity to improve the standard of child protection practice.

“I believe these steps are the ones required to establish the best possible chance of the very significant and sustainable changes required in Doncaster.”

Mr Gove says the problems within children’s services at Doncaster Council identified in a report by Lord Carlile are severe and longstanding.

In 2009, after two boys were horrifically tortured by two others at Edlington Brickponds, the council was directed to appoint an Improvement Board to advise, scrutinise and challenge the council in the improvement work and to secure a new leadership team for their children’s services.

Mr Gove said: “The problems with child protection are, to an extent, symptomatic of wider failures of corporate governance within Doncaster Council.

“In 2010, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government appointed three commissioners to ensure the council took the measures required to improve corporate governance.

“Despite these measures, Ofsted found child protection arrangements to be inadequate. Given the repeated failures to address the shortcomings in children’s services and child protection, more radical action is now required.

“Sustaining improvements in such complex systems requires stability and, above all, consistent, inspirational leadership. The recent history of Doncaster Council suggests these conditions will not be met.”

Prof Le Grand and Mr Wood will review whether an independent organisation, delivering children’s social care services outside of council control, would provide the greatest likelihood of securing improvement.

Mr Gove will consider whether further action is appropriate following their report.

Mr Davies said: “There have been significant improvements in our services but I have always made it clear we still have a long way to go and need to accelerate the pace of change.

“DfE acknowledged progress made together as recently as our last annual review, and were considering reducing their involvement, even though improvements remained to be made.

“It is perhaps unfortunate they have taken five months to respond to the latest inspection but we welcome any input that will allow us to move forward even faster and build a stable service.

“As the latest report indicates, there are no quick fixes and we must remember we are responding to a huge problem decades in the making.”

Sonia Hume-Dawson, of Wosskow Brown Solicitors in Barnsley, who acts for the victims of the incidents in Edlington, said: “Appointing a third party to oversee the child protection capability of a local authority is an intervention hitherto unheard of in children’s services, and sets a precedent.

“This reflects the seriousness of the failings in the council’s ability to provide adequate services to local children and shows the urgency of the need to improve the protection and welfare of local children in the future.

“Everyone involved in the aftermath of these crimes will be relieved action is being taken, and the families welcome the Secretary of State’s intervention.”

The move was also welcomed by Doncaster MPs Caroline Flint, Ed Miliband and Rosie Winterton, who said Mr Gove had ‘listened to our calls to engage a new Children’s Commissioner and delivery partner to improve Children’s Social Care in Doncaster’.