A government troubleshooter has been parachuted in to take control of Kirklees’ failing children’s services.
In a report published on Friday morning, Ofsted branded Kirklees Council’s children’s services as “inadequate” – the lowest rating it can give.
On Friday afternoon the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, ordered the council to let a government-appointed Children’s Services Commissioner take charge.
That job has been given to turnaround expert Eleanor Brazil, who is reported to have earned £1,000 per day when brought in to patch up social services at Leeds City Council.
It has been revealed she has the power to remove control of children’s services from the council.
Kirklees Council was inspected by Ofsted in September, just five months after it revealed to the Examiner it had uncovered serious issues through its own investigation.
But Ofsted said the children’s services department had been unable to improve significantly since then.
Its 38-page report says: “Services for vulnerable children in Kirklees are inadequate, due to serious widespread failures which result in some children not being protected or having their needs met.”
The report reveals the Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board raised the alarm about social work standards in August 2015, prompting chief executive Adrian Lythgo to launch an independent review.
A review of 226 cases found 10% were of concern, with urgent action required to help some children.
Senior figures in the children’s services team have been replaced over the past couple of years.
Clr Erin Hill took on responsibilty for the portfolio in May last year from predecessor, Clr Jean Calvert, who oversaw the service from 2014.
At the time of Clr Calvert’s appointment the service was rated “good” by Ofsted.
Clr Calvert has since been embroiled in the so-called Ratesgate scandal after failing to pay her council tax bills on time for many years.
Sarah Callaghan was appointed as the director for the department last April, replacing Alison O’Sullivan – who retired but has since become a government advisor for the Children’s Commissioner.
A review by the new director found more than 500 children had received poor service.
The Ofsted report concedes that the new management was already aware of the issues and has made some progress.
But it says many new policies are not yet making a difference to children’s experiences.
It describes the department’s electronic recording system as “not fit for purpose” and says many social workers are not given adequate inductions, training or supervision.
Inspectors further said that some social workers were under too much pressure.
The damning report criticises officials’ “inconsistent” standards and lack of co-ordination with other agencies, such as the police.
It adds: “There is too much focus on the parents, rather than the experience of children.”
Delays in removing children from dangerous homes were also uncovered and the council’s co-ordination of legal work and its use of the court system is also slated.
Ofsted also said many children in care were being placed too far away from their family and friends.
The report does praise the council’s work to prevent child sexual exploitation. Mrs Callaghan said the investigation had not found any children at risk of significant harm.
She said: “We’re on a journey of improvement and we’ve been upfront about that.
“We were able to show that when Ofsted were here and that we’re starting to make an impact.
“We are remodelling the whole service which will take considerable time.
“Our staff are hugely committed to this work and they share the view that it’s critical to make improvements as quickly as possible.”
Clr Hill (pictured) said she was confident that the key issues had been uncovered and said there were no signs that a child sexual exploitation (CSE) scandal, such as at Calderdale and Rotherham, had been missed.
She said: “I understand this is concerning for all residents in Kirklees.
“Keeping children safe and helping them lead healthy and happy lives is a fundamental priority for this administration and I will make sure the Ofsted recommendations are taken into account.
“Ofsted have acknowledged that we know what needs to be done and have praised the commitment of our staff and all political parties in Kirklees.
“For lots of authorities the first they know they’ve got a problem is when Ofsted come in and tell them they’ve got a problem.
“We told Ofsted that we had a problem.”
Kirklees Council says it has committed £4m extra cash to tackling poor practices, including recruiting more permanent social workers and foster carers.