Council cedes control of children’s services

Government announces creation of trust to run services in Bradford, where council and partners admitted failings in handling of Star Hobson case

Image of Bradford skyline (image: John Farman via Wikimedia Commons)
Bradford skyline (image: John Farman via Wikimedia Commons)

Bradford’s children’s services will be outsourced to an independent trust, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has announced.

The decision, agreed with the council, follows recommendations made this month to Zahawi by Steve Walker, the government-appointed commissioner at the inadequate-rated authority.

It also comes after the authority and its safeguarding partners admitted failings in their handling of the Star Hobson case, in December last year, after Star’s mother’s partner was found guilty of murdering the 16-month-old girl.

Walker was appointed in September after Ofsted reported a “slow pace” of improvement in Bradford since its inadequate rating in 2018.

Three months later, Savannah Brockhill was found guilty of murdering Star, whose mother, Frankie Smith, was convicted of causing or allowing her death.

Failings admitted in Star case

Five referrals to Bradford council’s children’s services were made by friends and family from January 2020 to Star’s death, September of that year.

In a statement following the case, the local safeguarding partnership said it “deeply regret that not all the warning signs were seen that could have led to firmer statutory enforcement action”.

Following Brockhill and Smith’s sentencing, the Department for Education said it would “not hesitate to remove service control” from Bradford after reading Walker’s report.

Walker’s review noted that leaders in Bradford “acted promptly” to ensure children’s services had the resources required for improvement and that recent progress had been made, the DfE said.

However, it concluded that the council lacked the capacity and capability to improve services at pace on its own and recommended an alternative delivery model to support improvement in services and outcomes for vulnerable children in Bradford’s care.

While the new trust is established, an independent non-executive commissioner will also be appointed to lead the council through the transition period. The trust will be fully owned by the council, and work closely with it, but will remain operationally independent, the DfE said.

‘Trust will bring certainty to social workers’

Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, said the creation of a trust would give social workers “certainty over the future direction of the service and the opportunity to draw on resources and expertise nationally”.

She said it would also will bring greater investment and support for children and young people in the district.

“Inevitably this will take time and we’re acutely conscious that there can be no pause in our improvement journey,” she said.

“We’ve asked government to collaborate with us to create a commissioner-led improvement board. This will enable us to focus on delivering consistently high-quality care to the children of our district.

“Our frontline staff are key to this – we recognise the hard work social care staff do every day, entering homes in some of the most challenging circumstances in our society, and we are committed to supporting them.”

‘Council needs support to improve’

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “Keeping vulnerable children safe from harm is non-negotiable. Where a council is not meeting its duty to do this, we will take action to protect children and put their needs first.

“It’s clear from the recommendations made by the commissioner in Bradford that the council needs support to improve and so I’m pleased that Bradford council have agreed to establish a new trust that will bring positive change for the council and independent oversight that drives improvements.

“This is an important moment for children and families in Bradford, and for social workers and other professionals who want to create meaningful and effective relationships with them. These professionals take highly complex decisions each day to protect children, and I am grateful for the effort that goes into each one.”

Meanwhile, the DfE said that the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s inquiry into the lessons learned from the Arthur Labinjo-Hughes case would be widened to incorporate learning from the Star Hobson’s case. This replaces the local child safeguarding practice review that had been set up to investigate Star’s case. The review panel is due to report in May.

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14 Responses to Council cedes control of children’s services

  1. Katy January 25, 2022 at 8:10 pm #

    Suggest they approach the commissioner who helped shape the Sunderland together for children model as this was a huge success given their outstanding status which is more than can be said for some of the other trust models

    • Terry Deen January 28, 2022 at 1:32 pm #

      This was nothing to do with the commissioner. The commissioner overseen a second consecutive inadequate Ofsted inspection after and left. It was the new senior management Team, social workers and staff who achieved outstanding.

  2. Tariq January 28, 2022 at 11:23 am #

    “We’ve asked government to collaborate with us”. So a review concludes that Bradford lacks the drive to improve by itself, their Safeguarding leads admit failing to protect a child but the arrogance of the council reframes the conclusions as an initiative from the council. You didn’t ask the government, they imposed all this on you. Accept you failed, accept you would continue to fail if you weren’t led to improvement. I have friends who work in Bradford. They are demoralised and ashamed by the posturing of their bossess. They are diligent, conscientious and committed to doing a good job. This kind of look at us aren’t we in control of our own destiny posturing does nothing to lift their spirits. If I worked in Bradford, I couldn’t stomach the imploring from managers to trust they are building cultures that validate the kind of values which safeguard and serve communities and empower and champion critical reflection. Have the humility to accept you need to be helped to improve. No one is asking Bradford to be extraordinary, but just to be competent. It’s that simple, it really isn’t rocket science.

  3. Margaret January 29, 2022 at 11:53 am #

    I’m pleased that action is finally been taken in Bradford. The situating has been deteriorating for several years.
    I was a manager and I left in 2020, after 40 years service, as I couldn’t take any more. Numerous changes of senior managers and restructures couldn’t improve the situation where there were not enough social workers to do the work.
    If you have to allocate every case and you don’t have enough workers, you will overload the ones you do have and they will start to leave. This is a downward spiral, then you get to the stage where you have more and more agency workers and they don’t stay long as they too are given more work than they can do.
    I asked for help many times, as I wasn’t satisfied with the service we were providing, (and the affect upon my wellbeing) without success. I was even told that if I couldn’t stand the heat, I should get out of the kitchen as it wasn’t going to get better any time soon.
    I left with sadness: Bradford used to be an Authority social workers were proud to work for.

  4. Kate January 30, 2022 at 9:15 am #

    In Bradford we do things our way and mostly our way is the good way. Our mistakes are fewer and I for one will not accept that one child death gets to define us. Tragedies happen in all social work settings. I won’t accept that we deserve a special bashing. I refuse to accept the narrative that social workers fail to ptotect people because we are incompetent or lazy. We are not. Mistakes can happen but we can be proud that we try to be honest. Systems fail social workers so it’s the systems that fail children not us individual social workers. We are human so before you complain about us think about how we can only play the hand we are dealt. The system we have imposed on us from London is the usual North bashing southern snobbery. How many children were killed while under the care of London social workers?
    So I believe it was wrong of the Safeguarding partnership to accept mistakes were made before the full facts are established. We are proud Yorkshire people and most of us have great confidence in our managers. So your mates might be demoralised Aziz but they are definitely in a minority.

  5. Samuel January 30, 2022 at 8:57 pm #

    A child is murdered and all of the fall out is a put up job by that there London? Thank you for confirming why I left Yorkshire Kate. Personally I have no doubt that like my colleagues in London, social workers in Bradford do the best they can. The issues are much too important and the consequences of business as usual so horrific that it really is crass to reduce the narrative to God’s Own Country clichés. Margaret says it better.

  6. Andy January 31, 2022 at 9:44 am #

    I hate personalising a discussion but the comment from Kate is very troubling. If as she claims to does represent the majority of social worker opinion in Bradford, then the imposition of an Independent Trust to oversee practice is sensible. And I say this as someone who is usually very critical of the use of outside agents in local services. Reading the comment made me sad and also incredulous. Ofcourse social workers practice in systems and often those systems hinder good social work. But we are nothing if we don’t take personal responsibility for our own roles too. Neither systems nor social workers kill children, parents and carers and strangers do, but when we are involved we are not some ghost presence hovering but doing nothing of substance. At the very least we make decisions good or bad. So we too have responsibility. The what aboutery is just depressing. Children get killed in London so a child murdered in Bradford shouldn’t cause consternation? What’s the evidence the Bradford way is the “good” way and “mistakes” fewer there? I don’t really have the words to respond to the assertion that the response to the murder of a child is just Southern snobbery against the North. And I say that as a Geordie. Northern pride isn’t without its flaws, as perhaps evidenced by the numbers of proud Yorkshire people living in other regions and indeed in that dreadful London. As I understand from reading about this tragedy, the council and partners owned failures not inspite of a lack of “facts” but because there are some compelling facts already known about flawed decision making. I hate having to argue with fellow social workers because we are all in difficult circumstances but I do not think our way is the better way so stick it up your jumper Southern snobbery is a considered response to be left unchallenged. The disdain thrown at Aziz and his friends is frankly disturbing. Perhaps Kate can take a moment to reflect on Margarets experiences.

  7. Pete January 31, 2022 at 9:57 am #

    I know senior social work leaders in Bradford have disdain for comments in Community Care and from personal experience even question with a flurry of exclamation marks if some of us are who we claim to be, but perhaps they can make an exception just once and let us know how representative of Bradford social workers views Kates are. Asked in the spirit of a profession committed to learning and CPD.

  8. Kate January 31, 2022 at 11:53 pm #

    Margaret left but I am still here doing my very best for Bradford service users. We both made choices so I have nothing to learn from hers. Friends of Aziz may be disgruntled but there are always a few staff who are in any organisation. I went to London once for a BASW conference and resolved never to set foot in the dreadful place. Ofcourse people leave Yorkshire so what? Our safeguarding leads and partners are wrong to accept blame at this time. I know the full review will prove that. Social workers in Bradford do the best they can inspite of the government giving more money to services in the South so no, not all social workers do what they do from an equal starting point. That’s the only evidence I need.

  9. William February 1, 2022 at 9:22 am #

    Bradford Children’s services rates inadequate in 2018, judged to have failed to improve after massive re-organisation that continued to rely on agency staff. That’s the better way? I went to Bradford once, it had a reasonable film museum but really it’s not up to our Huddersfield glories. The issues here are more important and the tragedy of this child and her family too awful to reduce them to crass regionalism, so shame on me too. Given what happened Safeguarding partners acted the only way they could. Whatever deficits they may have, that they accepted responsibility is right. That they have the humility and the gumption to know something went wrong is actually the better way.

  10. Retired social worker February 1, 2022 at 10:10 pm #

    Steve Walkers conclusions aren’t as devastating regarding safeguarding as it might seem. What’s really damning is the judgement that on their own Bradford managers are incapable of improving at a pace to gain public confidence. This has been their ongoing failure since 2018. I left Bradford in mid 2019 during their massive top down reorganising. It was a disaster foretold but posturing and refusal to listen won. I am sad for my former colleagues especially as they will soon find out that being employed by an “arms length” body is no panacea for the treacle in which they have tried to be the best social workers they could be.

  11. Clemmy February 2, 2022 at 10:57 am #

    I am a social worker in Adult services in Bradford. Unlike my colleague I cannot say that my views represent majority of social workers here. All I know is that I turn up for work everyday, sometimes with hope, sometimes with dread. We are in a situation that most of us haven’t created but the consequences of which we have to cope with to do our jobs. Ofcourse we take pride in what we do and how we try to do it. But it’s a stretch to claim that this is unique to Bradford and so is the better way. All I want is that our managers and seniors stop pretending that we are akin to a centre of social work excellence. Fewer e-mails, fewer tweets and less of the look at how we promote selfless professionalism with our committment to “co-production” narrative would help. All of that comes across as desperate at best and insincere at worst. The managers who are genuinely committed to us as social workers and treat users of services as our equals who deserve respect are not the vocal ones. As ever it’s the diligent, silent, averse to raising our personal profile as the priority ones of us who keep our services functioning. We will work under who ever takes us over because we are conscientious. I just hope that the seemingly endless discussions about “organisational cultures” just get binned so that for a change, us workers can really be heard. Actually, it’s not managers who create cultures as some claim, but us doing our jobs well. The best culture is created and shaped by us being the social workers we are trained to be. Cajoled into working according to this months interpretation of an already irrelevant American fad podcast which inevitably will be ditched when the next one comes along, is just chaos that ferments cynicism. Trust us to be ethical social workers, let us practice professionally, supervise us and let us talk when you get round to doing it. That’s how healthy and dynamic cultures are developed and embedded into good practice. So like many in Bradford I am contemplating whether to stay to see if our experiences improve and real change happens so users of our services get a better experience of us too, or give in to the demoralisation and leave. Here’s hoping that the Bradford way, whatever that is, withers away somehow anyway.

  12. Alice February 5, 2022 at 10:02 am #

    If I was social worker in Bradford I think I would be a bit more circumspect in my defending of managers and councillors.

  13. AnotherSocialWorker February 6, 2022 at 4:41 pm #

    I too work in Bradford and while I do not agree with all the points Clemmy makes, I do agree that the inconsistent messages we get bombarded with is creating cynicism. It’s a real pity that we don’t have safe forums in our authority to talk openly about how we feel the way Kate, Margaret, Retired Social Worker and Clemmy have done here. So thank you Communuty Care for giving us this space. It’s a real shame that some of our managers and other seniors in Bradford have a negative view of below the line comments. I hope that even though they can’t allow themselves to acknowledge our contributions that they will allow themselves a surreptitious peek. It’s a pity I can’t identify myself openly for fear of a reprimand or worse but be assured that I am real, I am who I say I am, I am qualified and I am registered.