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.