A “culture of secrecy” and frequent management changes have blighted Doncaster children’s services, councillors and staff representatives have claimed.
Councillors have said they were not aware of seven serious case reviews – three completed and four in progress – until a local paper broke the news last December. The three completed reviews concern cases dating back to 2004, 2006 and 2007.
Delay in publication
The council has confirmed that these SCRs were not placed on its website until late December or early this month. It also admitted that one review was not published until three years after the incident.
The council announced it had commissioned an independent review of safeguarding arrangements last week after significant failings were revealed in last month’s annual performance assessment by Ofsted. The government is already carrying out a review of children’s services and will then decide whether the council should face further intervention.
Garth Oxby (pictured right), leader of an alliance of independent members on the council,
said there had been a “cover-up” over failings in children’s services.
“Had it not been for the Doncaster Free Press the problems would not have come out as early as they did,” he said. Liberal Democrat group leader Edwin Simpson agreed that councillors had been “kept in the dark”.
Oxby also claimed that management turmoil had contributed to the current crisis – a point backed by Unison branch secretary Jim Board, who accused elected mayor Martin Winter of “decimating” children’s services through a corporate restructure.
In 2004, Winter appointed Mark Hodson, who had no public sector background, as director of children’s services. Hodson, formerly in the frozen food business, left in 2007.
Board said Hodson’s departure was followed by a period without a children’s director, when social work vacancy rates became “unmanageable”. An interim director, Jim Crook, was then appointed until the current interim director, Dr Paul Gray, was brought in on government recommendation in April 2008.
Fear of sack
Two sources close to children’s services confirmed the perception of a “culture of secrecy” and said social workers feared being sacked if they spoke out. One claimed the delays in publishing serious case reviews were “just the way Doncaster works”.
Management changes had also led to a “lack of direction”, another confirmed. “The leadership is not consistent and has included managers who are not from the social work field and without the understanding required for the role,” the source told Community Care.
Both sources warned of “another Baby P” and said more needed to be done to prevent social workers leaving the authority due to low pay and morale.
In an interview with Community Care last week, Gray blamed the problems on a lack of staff and rise in referrals, but said performance was improving.
This week, mayor Winter (pictured right) rejected calls from a majority of councillors to resign.
The council was unable to respond to the latest allegations before Community Care went to press.
Academic and former social services director Ray Jones shares his thoughts on Doncaster’s problems with Community Care executive editor Mark Ivory in the Ivory Tower podcast.