David Cameron announces ‘landmark’ reforms to tackle ‘inadequate’ children’s services

The Prime Minister said that local authorities that fail persistently will be taken over by high-performing local authorities, child protection experts or charities

Photo: David Hartley/Rex Shutterstock
Photo: David Hartley/Rex Shutterstock

David Cameron has announced an acceleration of plans to tackle failing children’s services which will make it easier for them to be removed from direct local authority control.

The “landmark” reforms, which he claimed were comparable to the government’s changes to education under the Academies programme, will stop the government standing by “while children are let down by inadequate social services”, he said. He revealed plans for another children’s services department, at Sunderland council, to move into a children’s trust model.

Children’s services that have persistently failed in the past will be taken over immediately by high-performing local authorities, experts in child protection and charities, Cameron announced. This transformation could include these partners acting as sponsors, or forming ‘trusts’, like those in Doncaster or Slough, to take over authorities.

The government announced that Sunderland, which received an ‘inadequate’ judgment from Ofsted in July, will become a voluntary trust established by the chief executive of Achieving for Children, the community interest company that runs children’s services in Richmond and Kingston. New service leaders will also be appointed in Norfolk and Sandwell to tackle failings.

Academy-style system

A government statement said: “In the past, children’s services were taken over on an ad hoc basis with no clear national response to failure. For the first time, a formalised academy-style system will be put in place so that any local authority judged as inadequate by Ofsted has to show significant improvement within six months or be taken over.”

Under the plans, if a children’s services has failed to improve, a children’s commissioner will be appointed and high-performing local authorities, experts in child protection and charities will be brought in.

There will be “sharper triggers”, the government said, so that an emergency inspection can be ordered where there are concerns. This could include complaints from whistle-blowers or evidence of poor leadership.

Cameron said: “Children’s services support the most vulnerable children in our society. They are in our care; we, the state, are their parents; and we are failing them. It is our duty to put this right; to say to poorly performing local authorities: improve, or be taken over. We will not stand by while children are let down by inadequate social services.”

Landmark reforms

He added: “This will be one of the big landmark reforms of this Parliament, as transformative as what we did in education in the last. And it shows how serious we are about confronting state failure and tackling some the biggest social problems in our country. Together we will make sure that not a single child is left behind.”

One critic, however, compared the plans to a “deckchair re-arrangement on a fleet of torpedoed ships”.

Kathy Evans, chief executive of Children England, said that, after the recent spending review failed to mention child protection and children in care, “changing the management structure without addressing the systemic inadequacy of budgets to meet rapidly increasing levels of children’s needs is an irresponsible political move that will leave early intervention abandoned and essential staff stressed and demoralised”.

Changing landscape

The chief social worker for children and families, Isabelle Trowler, said the announcement showed how the landscape for child and family social work “is changing fast”.

“It is imperative that we, as a profession, step up to the mark and play a leading role in its design and delivery.”

Other measures announced today were expansions of the Frontline and Step Up to Social Work training programmes, a drive to recruit new trust sponsors from the charity sector, an urgent review of local safeguarding children boards, and a new ‘What Works Centre’ for social workers to learn from the best practice in the country. The government will also work with six high-performing local authorities on how to give academy-style freedoms to high performers.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan said the government wanted to see excellent child and family social work at the heart of child protection.

“We are creating new partnerships which will see experts working hand in hand to raise standards in struggling local authorities, we’re investing more to ensure the best and the brightest get into frontline social work and we’re driving innovation across the system so that every child has the best possible start in life,” she said.

Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of the charity Action for Children, welcomed the proposals: “Partnerships are the way forward and any partnership under these proposals will need appropriate safeguards and an understanding of what works for children. Working with local authorities, charities with relevant expertise are well placed to provide innovative solutions at a time of increasing need and reduced resources.”

9 Responses to David Cameron announces ‘landmark’ reforms to tackle ‘inadequate’ children’s services

  1. Judyr December 14, 2015 at 4:35 pm #

    Problem is, most of the people working in the failing LA SS departments remain working in the same place in the new Trust.

  2. Emma December 14, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

    Seems to have passed by hardly noticed that Doncaster were just judged inadequate by OFSTED, a year after the Trust took over… Perhaps this is not a magic wand solution to very complex issues….

  3. Tom Hughes December 14, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

    The only failure is Cameron who keeps missing his child poverty targets set out by Blair. All this does is move the criticism on children being let down away from him, which is where is should be.

  4. james Marsh December 14, 2015 at 11:55 pm #

    There are a few problems with this idea. Have trusts worked in Doncaster and Slough? Ofsted reports in the coming weeks and in Slough’s case in the new year are likely to suggest that Trusts have made limited improvments and 6 months is an absurd timescale to turn around a sinking ship.
    Another issue is that Ofsted have very few HMIs and are now way behind with the ‘new’ Single Inspection framework. It might be worth Community Care contacting Ofsted to ask how they are doing with their significant staffing issues and asking them why they are so behind with the Single Inspection Framework. So far they have completed around 85 with at least 65 more to do plus those which are deemed Inadequate which need to be inspected again within two years. They are supposed to complete thesee SIF inspections by March 2017 but there is no way they will manage this. Ofsted simple do not have the staff to do this, they do not have the lead inspectors or the backroom staff to do this properly as Ofsted inspectors are leaving quicker than frontline child protection social workers are leaving Local Authorities which is saying something!
    There is limited mention here that now over 80% under the SIF are inadequate or Requiring Improvement and none are Outstanding-if this were schools this would be considered a national outrage.
    In terms of the lack of Ofsted staff it means that certain LAs have not been inspected for over 4 years eg Poole and therefore none really knows how many are doing but it likely that many more are likely to be deemed Inadequate and where are all these wonderful leaders going to come from? Have the DFE got a plan for that? is there a link between Essex being seen as wonderful and them having loads of cash per chance?
    The child protection system in the UK is in a real mess and everyone who works in it knows it but none is willing to really tackle it-just look at Birmingham-failing for 7 years but anther interesting question for DFE is why have they not turned that into a trust yet? so some questions for CC to ask the DFE and Ofsted:
    Why is it that since Tories came into power in 2010 the number of Inadequate and RI children services has significantly increased?
    what have we learned so far from the £100 million that has already been spent on Innovations? is this the best use of taxpayers money as it just means more forms and processes for Local Authorities to fill out?
    How many staff at the DFE work on the children services social work section and how many are qualified social workers and how many have ever spent anytime working for a Local Authority or a charity in the child protection sector?
    Why do the DFE continue to demand that LA provide data returns on lots of different issues then they do nothing with the vast majority of that data?
    When everyone knows the ICS system is a complete failure why is none doing anything about this and the fact that social workers are spending 70% of their time behind their desks and when they do carry out visits they spend their time gathering information to help them fill out forms?

    • Bright Mude December 15, 2015 at 11:47 am #

      In reply to Mr Marsh, your last statement sums up whats wrong with the system. Fix that and there will be less employee turnover because SW love to be hands-on. Spending time with families not only builds good professional relationships but families will feel that SW are genuinely interested in seeing them transform. Thats besides the need for more budget allocation to recruit more SW so that caseloads become managable.

  5. fred December 15, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    The continued attack on the poor by the Government is the issue. Thse attacks on local authorities are just a distraction.

  6. Terri December 15, 2015 at 12:01 pm #

    This has always been David Cameron’s plan. Withdraw funding each year from Local Authority Children’s services and wait for them to fail. His priority is not protecting children and supporting outstanding social workers to do a difficult job that is challenging. His motivation is power and money. Why isn’t anyone listening?

  7. Concerned December 15, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

    A Charity recently found that in 2014 just over a million families were using the Sure Start programme, this had increased by 50,000 in one year. This valuable service for families had its ring-fenced funding removed by the coalition government. As a result of this cities such as Newcastle will close 20 of its centres, Liverpool will close 23 (leaving 3 in the city) and Staffordshire Council will close something like 40, leaving ten in their county. This public service of 3,000 centres had £10bn of public money invested in it by the Labour government in order to level the playing field for disadvantaged children and their families by providing targetted support to reduce the need for statutory interventions such as care proceedings etc.
    Lancaster University yesterday produced a well researched report looking at children involved in care proceedings. In 2008, 802 new borns were subject to care proceedings compared to 2,018 new borns in 2013.
    All of the so called ‘experts’ the government are bringing in to work with cash strapped and poorly resourced councils will not be able to replace the valuable work done by the true ‘heroes’ of social work, they are the Sure Start and family support workers who are being made redundant on a weekly basis around the country. I am concerned that the chief social worker for children seems to agree with every development that this government proposes without any challenge or consultation with her vast army of ‘regular’ social workers. Perhaps MLA will be given a contract to run some of the failing councils.

  8. Peter Durrant December 15, 2015 at 8:44 pm #

    Now retired for over twenty-five years I’m puzzled why we have no clear description of precise ways in which social workers can work more successfully with distressed children and families. Whilst it does seem to me that Adult Social Care although, arguably, not always used in a creative, co-operative way, does at least provide direct payment and personalised budgets which enable people on the receiving ends of services to, hopefully, work in partnership with the statutory and third sectors. It also seems to me, light years away from local authority grass-roots practice but, still, just, part of an (Un)-Partnership CC Group working with people who are ageing, that achievable options for SWs painfully facing families in entrenched financial and emotional crises are anything but positive. Leading to painful memories in poorly furnished living rooms of searching for non-existent options to Reception into Care. Thus possibly avoiding the inevitable crises and fostering breakdowns often confronting facing us all with little or no on-going support. Yet alone often changing social workers as individuals move on. One small piece of legislation we had at the time was Section One money via the 1963 Childrens Act. Which I understand from a recent Community Care Bulletin is under-researched and now part of the 1989 Children’s legislation. But which was difficult to obtain, completely unsuited to achieving real change and left me and my colleagues spending too much time writing begging letters to various charities. (Is it really worth training us all for three years and more to continue down these pointless cul-de-sacs}. Other routes included post-crisis fostering and adoption, although there was a Family Welfare street-wise vol-org team in Hammersmith at which, for my money, was very much an improvement on present ‘Troubled Families’ initiatives. Along with changing social workers by the dozen as the years of separation sped by. Finding, sadly, when I moved to Bristol few improvements through innovation, partnerships and shared ‘solutions.’. But, and I’m pleased to make this point, the onset from New Zealand of Family Group Conferences does seem to me to indicate, if we can build upon this foundation, a much more open and positive neighbour-based approach towards working with, and not for, people in severe financial and emotional crises. Although my offer to help a local Sure-Start here in Cambridge was met with indifference. Surely there is now beginning evidence that rethinking community social work on the Barclay Report model, committed to sharing power and decision making, can enable us all, especially friends, neighbours and other key workers to work more effectively with children and families. Even offering alternatives to the many trauma(s), and often fostering breakdowns, once children are taken into Care. Why aren’t we looking more rigorously, and politically, for radical and viable alternatives?