Wokingham’s new children’s chief vows to put vulnerable first

The new director of children’s services at Wokingham Council has vowed to make improving outcomes for vulnerable children his number one priority.

Andy Couldrick said he had “high ambitions” despite having to work under a series of special measures imposed after a critical joint area review in January.

Significant weaknesses

The report identified “fundamental” weaknesses in safeguarding, including high staff turnover and limited management capacity in children’s social care. This resulted in poor child protection work and poor case recording, leading to “significant risk”.

Wokingham is one of nine children’s services authorities in England facing government intervention following poor Ofsted ratings.

Management restructure

Couldrick, currently head of children and families at Oxfordshire Council, will take up his post as “general manager” of children’s services, which includes the statutory director’s role, in September.

In the meantime Gerald Meehan, director of children’s services at Halton Borough Council, is advising Wokingham on an interim basis and will help managers to prepare an improvement plan by 31 July, as required by the government.

Steve Liddicott, an experienced children’s social care manager, who joined the council in May as interim assistant director for six months, will lead a reorganisation of social care teams. The management structure is also being overhauled.

An improvement board chaired by Cheryl Miller, chief executive of East Sussex Council, is scrutinising progress on behalf of ministers, while consultants from PricewaterhouseCoopers are supporting improvements across Wokingham, Reading, and NHS Berkshire West Primary Care Trust.

Wokingham’s capacity to improve ‘adequate’

The council will hope to build on some encouraging signs in the JAR, which said the council’s children and young people’s plan reflected local needs and the Every Child Matters agenda. Overall capacity in children’s services was rated ‘adequate’.

Commenting on his appointment, Couldrick, a qualified social worker, said he was “delighted to be joining Wokingham at such an exciting time”.

“There is much to do, and a number of challenges face us, but it is clear that the ambition for children and young people in the borough is high, and that our most vulnerable children are an absolute priority for everyone.”

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