The Department for Education has published a report which looks at future options for children’s services in Kirklees.
A Children’s Commissioner was appointed to work with us following our Ofsted inspection in the autumn of 2016. The role of the Commissioner, Eleanor Brazil, was to review children’s services, to help drive improvement and to make a recommendation to the Secretary of State.
A number of options were available to Eleanor, but her recommendation is that we should enter a formal partnership with Leeds City Council which will drive and sustain improvement across children’s social care. The partnership will be in place for up to three years.
The Commissioner’s report was actually completed in March but its publication was delayed by this year’s general election. Whilst the outcome is very much what we anticipated, it’s important to stress that a great deal has changed in the six months since the report was completed.
The partnership with Leeds is something we began to establish in early 2017. This relationship is flourishing, is strongly supported by both authorities and is already having a major impact.
We have a huge commitment to developing our services and achieving the best possible outcomes for children, young people and their families. A new senior leadership team has been in place since early summer, headed by Steve Walker who is now the Director of Children’s Services for both Kirklees and Leeds.
The new arrangements have strengthened and stabilised the leadership of children’s services, which is vitally important at a challenging time. We are seeing clear evidence of progress, though we absolutely recognise there is still a long way to go.
We accept Eleanor’s findings and agree with her report. We would like to thank Eleanor for the support she provided over several months in Kirklees. We are also continuing to tackle a number of ongoing issues in children’s social care, such as implementing a new IT system, reducing social work caseloads, co-ordinating a complex area of work and recruiting more permanent staff.
As the report makes clear, “all political parties understand the challenge and have expressed strong support for whatever is needed”. The additional support which has already come from Leeds – who have been on an improvement journey of their own and have emerged as a national partner in practice – is increasing the pace of change.
The dedication of our workforce in supporting children and families is equally crucial, so it’s pleasing that Eleanor has highlighted the way staff are committed to their work and to their community. This is a very positive building block. We expect Ofsted to visit Kirklees in the near future for another monitoring visit, which will be a chance to demonstrate the progress we are undoubtedly making.
At the same time, I have always been clear that improving children’s services can never be regarded as a ‘quick fix’. Whilst we do have areas of good practice, it is a long-term challenge to bring all of our work to the same high standard. I know the rest of the leadership team are in agreement with this.
The Commissioner’s report is an important milestone and, although we have made significant improvements since it was written in March, it is helping to tighten our focus on what needs to be done. Keeping children and young people safe, achieving better outcomes and enhancing life chances is – and will remain – an absolute priority for the council and its partners.
If you would like to read the full report, it is available here.