Council's failing children's services given six months to prove it can improve
A council close to Shropshire has been allowed to keep running its own inadequate children's services department - for the time being.
The government has ordered Herefordshire Council - which includes the Leominster area close to south Shropshire - to continue to co-operate with the children's commissioner commissioner.
It has been given six months to prove it can improve - including by working with the best councils - before other options have to be considered.
Herefordshire Children’s Services was featured on Panorama – Protecting Our Children: A Balancing Act on BBC One last year.
But it has either been rated at best requires improvement, or inadequate over the last 10 years.
In a recently published report Eleanor Brazil, the children's commissioner, said: "If the level and trajectory of progress that is required is not achieved within 6 months, consideration should be given to whether an alternative delivery model is required."
The commissioner added: "What needs to change is clear, but the lack of a sufficiently rigorous and systematic approach has meant that any improvements have been slow and have not created sufficient confidence that this will be as comprehensive as it needs to be, and sustained.
"I have considered whether services remaining under operational management of the Council, bringing in additional expertise, alongside continued high level over-sight and challenge from the Commissioner and the Improvement Advisor is a better option in the short term. I believe that it is.
"This will not necessarily ensure that improvements are sustained, and given Herefordshire’s history this is a major consideration. Therefore, I also propose that during this time, options to secure a formal partnership with a good or outstanding local authority are explored to ensure that changes and improvements continue to be made and result in the long-term sustainable improvement that is needed."
The council says it accepts the children's commissioner's report and the ministerial direction.
Paul Walker, the council's Chief Executive, said: "Improving Herefordshire Children’s Services remains this council’s number one priority.
"There are areas of progress identified by the Commissioner on which we can build, but we accept the pace of change has not been fast enough.
"We now have in place a detailed three-year improvement plan, which the Commissioner recognises as a strong platform for progress over the coming months, significant additional investment, a strengthened leadership team, a targeted recruitment and retention campaign and the structure for an independent commission to give families a voice and help us all move forward from the mistakes of the past."
Darryl Freeman, Director of Children’s Services, said: "As the Commissioner says, there are areas of progress which have already been made and on which we can build. But we know that the pace of change has to be quicker, and it will be."
Councillor David Hitchiner, Leader of Herefordshire Council, said: "We welcome the opportunity to work with the Commissioner, partner authorities, other agencies and families to bring to an end the failings which have affected our children’s service for far too long.
"We’ve strengthened the leadership team, allocated £22million of investment and sought external and independent advice to put right some of the mistakes of the past. But we also know that there is much more still to be done. We will do it. And we will ensure that the voice of children and families who use our service are heard throughout this process."