Children's commissioner says Northamptonshire social services are improving

Commissioner Andrew Christie has sent his second update to Government

Tuesday, 7th July 2020, 11:01 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th July 2020, 11:04 am
Commissioner Andrew Christie says the children's social services department is improving.

The Children’s Commissioner overseeing the improvement of inadequate social services in Northamptonshire says the department is improving in his second report to Government.

Andrew Christie, who was appointed to the role after the resignation of his predecessor Malcolm Newsam last September, says the service, which has been rocked by two child murders in the past three years, is establishing a better way of working to protect the county’s children.

In the nine page report published on July 3 Mr Christie lists the positives and does not give any negatives.

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He said: “Our February report highlighted a substantial change in the senior leadership team that came about in October 2019, with the new leaders needing to establish a way of working and improve the services they inherited.

“This is so far proving successful, with the leadership growing in confidence and making changes to improve the services over this period. The unallocated cases remain at zero; the leadership team are at full complement and well embedded (although the council is giving further consideration as to whether there is a need for additional capacity); agency numbers are decreasing; and managers throughout the organisation have more confidence in this new leadership team.

“Oversight of individual team performance continues to improve and there is an enhanced understanding of the detail of cases with more streamlined processes in place. However, there is still some way to go and the impact of COVID-19 has created new challenges for the service.”

Mr Christie pointed to the prioritisation of the service as the reason for improvement.

He said: “These improvements have been enabled by the significant additional investment that the council has made in children’s services both in the last financial year 2019/20, and in the service’s budget for this financial year 2020/21.

“The leader, lead member, cabinet and senior officers have quite evidently made the improvement of Children’s Services one of the council’s highest priorities, demonstrated by the attention given to the matter as well as the additional investment made.

“The council’s initial response to the COVID crisis was timely and focused. The leadership team know their service well, which put them in a strong position to quickly identify areas of risk and where to direct their energies.

“Staff sickness levels are low with as many working from home as possible.

“Some examples of a positive initial response include: • redeploying staff from low risk areas into front line safeguarding roles; • redeploying staff working with adolescents in a social work role to the residential children’s homes to create additional placement capacity; and • close monitoring of performance data by the Assistant Director for safeguarding.”

The report is a far cry from that of his predecessor Malcolm Newsam who in May 2019 said there was a culture of complacency in the department and a lack of accountability for poor performance. It said there was some way to go before the very basics of professional social work standards are in place in the county. Last July Ofsted rated the department as inadequate revealing some care leavers became homeless and some looked after children were staying in unsafe accommodation.

The service has been heavily relying on agency staff after staff have not wanted to join in part due to poor reputational issues.

The department is now run by Cathi Hadley who stepped up to the role after its highly paid boss Sally Hodges and her deputy Jean Imray left resigned last year.

In his report Mr Christie says he still believes moving the service to an independent children’s trust is the best way forward and now says the anticipated timescale for this to happen is early next year.

He says he is ‘concerned’ about the idea put forward by the county council that children’s services could be run by one of the two new unitaries to be created in April 2021 if the trust is not ready in time. He says this could destabilise the service and undo recent improvements.