A long awaited government report into Kirklees Council's children's services has finally been published.
Yesterday it was published - and in it told how the department’s troubles could be traced back to late 2014 when the long-standing director of children’s services, Alison O’Sullivan, became national vice-president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and lost local focus at a time where there were added responsibilities for the role.
Mrs Brazil ordered that Kirklees link up with Leeds City Council and that the Leeds director of social services take overall control. Steve Walker is the now the director of children’s services for both Kirklees and Leeds.
Here we analyse the report and bring you live reaction.
Kirklees Council's statement in full
Council Leader Clr David Sheard has released a statement following the publication of the report.
Eleanor’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 Eleanor completed her report.
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 the now the director of children’s services for both Kirklees and Leeds.
These 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, we 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.
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.
Eleanor gave three options -
She has recommended:
- Kirklees and Leeds councils agree some short term measures to drive immediate improvements
- Both councils will agree principals for a long term agreement to be in place until services are rated ‘good’ by Ofsted
- A formal partnership is established and Leeds’ director of children’s services takes over
- A government commissioner will oversee the work
- If a formal partnership cannot be established, ‘alternative arrangements will need to be considered’.
Eleanor says the union should recognise the positive intent of the council.
- Their concerns remain vague
- They need to have constructive discussions with the council
- Unison has recently given out wrong information about the future of the service
2016 review revealed teenagers living in bed and breakfast accommodation
Reviews in 2016 revealed some strengths - however it also revealed ‘serious concerns’ including:
- 258 children’s cases were unallocated to a social worker - some of which were on protection plans
- some 16-17 year olds were placed in bed and breakfasts
- some social workers had ‘dangerously high’ caseloads - one worker had 37 cases
- junior staff were making decisions normally taken above their level
- staff were not being supervised
- staff couldn’t describe what good practice looks like
- no clear workforce strategy or training plan
- management information system was not fit for purpose and there were three different systems for recording children’s information - meaning paper systems were being used
- staff were distracted by car parking issues
- there was evidence social workers and managers did not clearly understand how to identify and manage risk
Eleanor says the council took these concerns very seriously and made an action plan. The council invested £6.6m on staffing to support it as well as funding a replacement for the information system.
Problems were first noticed in 2015
- Bosses noticed demand was rising and cases weren’t being dealt with in a timely way
- concerns were raised about the quality of social work practice
- an audit revealed poor practice and poor decision making across a number of teams
- a review revealed strengths including involvement of schools and governors in safeguarding work
Structure is "fragile and potentially high risk"
- the current structure is fragile and high risk because the needs of some children take second place
- further planned changes to management structure are worrying because their impact is unclear
What's happening now - in brief
Here’s the current situation
- Departments dealing with children’s issues don’t work together effectively
- Leaders want to transform the whole council over the next 4 years and children’s services is at the heart of this
- Leadership changes has left staff feeling unsettled and added to anxiety about the future
- Changes in middle and junior management has impacted front line staff considerably - so future changes will need to be handled sensitively and carefully
New director 'lacked experience'
Sarah Callaghan, who took over children’s services from Allison O’Sullivan in April 2016, had a background in education and lacked experience in managing children’s social care and improving an inadequate service.
The council leadership was unhappy about the pace of improvement and it was decided she would leave in December 2016.
She did however, seek to increase scrutiny and oversight of the service, and it is her view that she did everything she could to drive improvement forward.
Council cabinet "considerably surprised" the service was failing
Eleanor says the cabinet was ‘considerably surprised’ the service was failing at a time there was such experienced leadership.
But she says they are now committed to making any improvements needed, they don’t want politics to have an impact - and leaders of all parties will work with the cabinet.
Leadership time spent away from the service reduced direction
Eleanor said the longstanding director of children’s services, Allison O’Sullivan, who retired in April 2016, had other national roles which would have taken her away from children’s services in Kirklees.
At the same time, the assistant director was seconded doing Ofsted inspections elsewhere.
It is very possible that the engagement at the same time of the two key senior managers in matters outside the authority reduced the level of senior oversight and direction.
Changes to corporate leadership roles plus the gap in political leadership when chief executive Adrian Lythgo became council leader could also have contributed.
Ofsted's findings after children's services inspections since 2009
Formal arrangement needed between Leeds and Kirklees
Eleanor says Leeds responded ‘quickly and positively’ in the short term. She recommends a formal arrangement which will support ‘rapid and sustainable improvement’.
Leeds were willing to look at this, she added.
She said Kirklees had been very welcoming and co-operative, giving her full support to do her work.
"Alternative leadership arrangements must be considered"
Eleanor says Kirklees can’t look after children’s services the way it is doing now.
In my view, Kirklees does not currently have the leadership and management capacity and capability to drive forward the changes necessary to achieve the required standards in children’s social care and alternative forms of service governance need to be considered.
Kirklees has already started to work with Leeds
The report says Kirklees and Leeds are already working together.
It says Kirklees’ corporate and political leadership understand the service’s challenges, are fully committed to doing what’s necessary - and accept they can’t do it alone.
Revealed: Eleanor spent four months at Kirklees
Eleanor spent four months with the council. She looked at:
- What went wrong
- Steps taken by Kirklees to address it
- Impact of these steps
- Whether it meant Kirklees was capable of making improvements or whether ‘alternative arrangements’ were needed
Concerns were first raised in 2015 and steps were taken, but Ofsted found it wasn’t enough.
Leadership changes hadn’t helped, staff were confused by changes and uncertain about the future, while performance information was a ‘significant problem’.
Like many other authorities the service struggled to recruit staff, relying significantly on agency staff, and workers in some teams were under too much pressure, which had a significant impact on the quality of their work with children.
The report in focus: What Eleanor Brazil found
Here’s the front page and table of contents.
Yesterday: Eleanor Brazil's report finally published
Eleanor Brazil’s report was finally published yesterday.
In it she said the department’s troubles could be traced back to late 2014 when the long-standing director of children’s services, Alison O’Sullivan, became national vice-president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and lost local focus at a time where there were added responsibilities for the role.
Local MPs voiced their concerns.
There is no excuse for this not being sorted. What happened was deeply disappointing and it hasn’t been sorted out quickly enough.
They have made a great effort so far but we cannot rest until every child in Kirklees is safe.
The commissioner’s report has shown that Kirklees Council does not have the capacity to deal with the issues alone, however I am encouraged that they will be working with Leeds City Council as National Partners in Practice to make sure that every child is helped and protected.
The report does highlight areas of continued concern, but I am reassured that the direction in which the council is moving is positive.
I have a meeting arranged with the leader and the chief executive of Kirklees Council to discuss these issues, and I will be holding them to account. I have been assured that no child has been harmed through the failings of Kirklees Council.
My first and primary concern is children’s safety and ensuring that the responsibility to children’s welfare is always met in Kirklees.
I continue to be deeply concerned by the Ofsted report of 2016, and, I believe that every child should benefit from high quality support when they need it. For any child to go unprotected, or not to have their needs met, is unacceptable.
I welcome the report and the news that Leeds City Council will work in partnership with Kirklees in order to improve the service.
I am clear that there should be no delay in rapidly improving local Children’s Services. That’s why I have sought an urgent meeting with the Leaders of Kirklees and Leeds City Councils, to discuss their plans going forward.
Background: Ofsted revisit shows service hadn't improved enough
In August Ofsted released a report saying it had reinspected children’s services - and the department had not improved enough.
It said there was lots more to be done.
Senior management were praised for attempting to resolve issues but were told things were taking too long to improve.
Background: Social workers strike for 48 hours
In July social workers walked out for 48 hours, saying they could take no more.
More than 200 workers were thought to have gone on strike in what Paul Holmes said was a ‘bitter’ dispute.
Meanwhile it was revealed the £450,000 spent on extra social workers in November contributed to a £2.7m overspend in Kirklees’ 2016/17 budget.
Council leader Clr David Sheard said: “We have continued to invest heavily, especially in children’s services as we strive for rapid improvement.
“The overspend is less than 1% and is covered by reserves.
“At the same time we have continued to invest in early intervention and prevention to reduce demand on services in future and will continue to invest in redesigning services to ensure they can be delivered effectively.”
Background: General election delays Eleanor Brazil's report
At the end of April Kirklees Council said publication of the government report by children’s services commissioner Eleanor Brazil was delayed by the general election.
Councillors were told of the delay via an email which also stated Mrs Brazil would stay on beyond her three month term so she could continue her work.
It also revealed she would seek to link Kirklees with Leeds City Council – whose children’s services department she helped reform in 2010.
The email, from Jaqui Gedman, by now acting chief executive, said Mrs Brazil’s report had been completed and was with the department for education for consideration after the general election.
Background: Workers vote to strike for an hour
In March, Unison members in children’s services voted to strike for one hour.
More than 270 Unison members working in children’s services decided to downing tools following the vote for strike action in January.
Paul Holmes said members thought progress was too slow - but Clr Erin Hill said that was misleading.
Background: Kirklees releases video appealing for more social workers
Kirklees published a video encouraging people to come and work for the council as social workers.
Deputy chief executive Jacqui Gedman and assistant director Carly Speechley made videos encouraging people to come and work for the council.
These are the videos.
Background: Strike postponed as Eleanor Brazil speaks for first time
The strike was postponed at the 11th hour so further talks could take place.
Meanwhile Eleanor Brazil spoke to the Examiner for the first time.
I will spend time with frontline staff and get a sense of how it is for social workers to do a good job, how they are being supported by the managers and what’s getting in the way of it.
She said her tasks were to review Kirklees’ leadership and management capability and help drive improvement.
At that time it was too early to tell whether children’s services would be taken out of the council’s hands.
It’s clear something went very wrong in terms of the focus on the most vulnerable children in the area. To be fair the council had started to address things but had not had the impact.
There are people committed to getting it right.
Background: Kirklees threatens to prevent strike with court action
That same month Kirklees Council wrote to Unison saying unless the strike was called off, legal steps would be taken.
It said Kirklees was not able to find out how many staff were balloted, what category they are and where they work - which meant the action is unlawful.
But Unison wrote back saying it was happy the ballot was correct and the strike would be taking place.
Background: 450 staff leave children's services in under four years
Kirklees Council released figures in January that showed 450 workers had left children’s services in under four years.
A former Kirklees children’s social worker told the Examiner heavy workloads and poor management saw dozens leaving each month for an easier life working for agencies.
But Clr Erin Hill said: “Although over 400 have left that doesn’t mean we were short by that number because we had people coming in to replace them.”
Background: Kirklees hits back at strike plan
Two days later, Kirklees Council bosses called into question the strike threat.
Unison had said a ballot of 250 children’s social workers had seen 79% in favour of taking industrial action.
It has since emerged that it was actually 79% of the 75 members who returned ballot papers – just 59 people.
A strike date was set for Friday, January 27.
Background: social workers vote to strike as department boss quits
Unison members voted to walk out this January - and children’s services chief officer Sarah Callaghan quit.
Mrs Callaghan, who was appointed as director of children’s services last April, has left by “mutual consent” just six weeks on from Ofsted’s report, and only nine months into her tenure.
Some 79% of the 250 members balloted voted in favour of walking out.
Mr Holmes said any strike would have to be taken between January 23 and February 6.
He said it was likely staff would strike for at least one day but said he thought there was a thirst for longer action.
Later that month Unison threatened to take strike action over the crisis, saying it had been raising Ofsted’s issues for years.
Kirklees Unison chief, Paul Holmes, said staff were not trying to de-rail the turnaround process.
He said children’s social workers wanted rapid improvement on issues including workloads, bad management, bullying, IT systems, travel, working environments and pay.
He said: “If they solve the problems we’re talking about it will help the Ofsted turnaround.
“We’d like answers to those issues and then we won’t be walking out.”
Background: Union claims workers were complaining for two years
Last December Unison, the council workers’ union, claimed social workers had been complaining about poor standards for two years - but nothing had been done.
Branch secretary Paul Holmes said: “They are understaffed, overworked, working with poor equipment, lacking adequate management, lacking training, bullied, harassed and left out to dry.”
Background: Council publishes video to try and reassure public
Clr Erin Hill appeared on video to speak about the crisis and try to reassure the public the council was confident no children were at risk of immediate harm.
Here’s the video.