Shock as Norfolk Children’s services could be taken over within a year

Michael Rosen, director of children's services at Norfolk County Council.

Michael Rosen, director of children's services at Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Submitted

Services to protect the most vulnerable children in Norfolk could be taken over within a year, the EDP can reveal today.

Norfolk County Council. County Hall. Photo : Steve Adams

Norfolk County Council. County Hall. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Archant

A government-appointed commissioner is set to walk into County Hall as soon as this week.

Dave Hill, who is currently responsible for children's services at Essex County Council, will start work immediately, the government has said.

Michael Rosen, the new executive director of children's services, said: 'We understand that the commissioner's role is to come in and make an assessment of what alternative arrangements are needed and if so to make a recommendation to ministers within the first three months.

'In discussions with the DfE last week we asked that whoever was appointed commissioner had extensive experience of children's services and are very pleased that the DfE has appointed Mr Hill who has prior experience of working in Norfolk to this position.'

In October, education watchdog Ofsted said the most vulnerable children in the county were still being let down by Norfolk County Council after the authority was branded 'inadequate' for the second time in three years.

Two of three areas within child protection and services for children in care in Norfolk were rated as 'requires improvement', but another – support for looked after children and care leavers – was deemed inadequate. That led to an overall 'inadequate' rating, although inspectors had been content with improvement to support for schools.

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Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs said that while he had been aware that the government was planning to bring in commissioners, there had been no suggestion to him that it would be taken over within a year.

'There's been colossal improvements in children's services over the past couple of years which all experts acknowledge. We've improved considerably in the field of education,' he added.

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis said: 'Our young people have had to settle for second best for too long and the county council has failed to move things forward efficiently thus far.' He said he had seen first hand in Great Yarmouth how good leadership could change things dramatically.

'I hope this action will now also ensure things now improve to the standard that we can all eventually be proud of for all children across Norfolk,' he added.

Downing Street said last night that the new commissioner Mr Hill had a 'great track record', both in Essex and elsewhere.

Norfolk County Council brought in Mark Gurrey as a troubleshooter in February. At the time, Norfolk County Council described his arrival as a 'joint venture' between the authority and the government, with his appointment jointly commissioned by the council and the Department for Education (DfE).

More recently Michael Rosen replaced Sheila Lock as director of children's services - with one of his first acts dealing with THE further inadequate rating and lodging a complaint with Ofsted over the verdict.

The Norfolk announcement comes as prime minister David Cameron said failing children's services were putting the lives of young people at risk.

The measures at Norfolk County Council will be part of a suite of new powers which will see complaints from whistle-blowers or evidence of poor leadership trigger emergency inspections of social services departments.

Experts will immediately be sent in to run Sunderland City Council's unit after inspectors found 'serious and widespread' failings and other local authorities in England will follow.

Mr Cameron said the state is 'failing' some of the country's most vulnerable children but vowed the changes would ensure that 'not a single child is left behind'.

'Children's services support the most vulnerable children in our society,' he added.

'They are in our care; we, the state, are their parents; and we are failing them. It is our duty to put this right; to say poorly performing local authorities: improve, or be taken over. We will not stand by while children are let down by inadequate social services.

'This will be one of the big landmark reforms of this Parliament, as transformative as what we did in education in the last. And it shows how serious we are about confronting state failure and tackling some the biggest social problems in our country. Together we will make sure that not a single child is left behind.'

Local authority departments judged inadequate by Ofsted will have six months to improve or they will be taken over in a system that mirrors Government reforms to tackle failing schools.

Top performing councils, experts in child protection and charities will be sent to run the worst units and will have the power to oust members of staff.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: 'Tackling child abuse is the greatest challenge of our generation. So an increased Government focus alongside these reforms, to help reduce the risk of harm to vulnerable children, are very welcome.

'Child protection is often a huge and complex area but too frequently some services have failed in this crucial duty; when this happens swift action is an absolute priority to prevent tragedies that shame us all.

'And we need to ensure that if tragedy does befall a child, that we then learn the lessons from serious case reviews, something that year after year is not done.'

More than £100m will also be pumped into extending two schemes - Frontline and Step Up - which attract the best graduates into social work with bursaries of around £19,000.

An urgent review of local safeguarding children boards will also be carried out, the serious case review system will be centralised and a 'what works centre' will be set up to make sure social workers learn from the best performers.

Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan said: 'Every single day our most vulnerable children and young people are supported by dedicated, expert social workers - support that changes their lives for the better.

'But in too many towns and cities across the country, children in the most desperate of circumstances are being allowed to slip through the cracks. This simply isn't good enough and every single child failed is a child too many.'