Doncaster to be stripped of children's social care responsibility

By Derren Hayes

| 16 July 2013

Children's services in Doncaster are to be split off from local authority control and instead run by an independent trust as part of a radical plan to turn the troubled department around.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has backed the review panel recommendation for wholesale change at Doncaster children's services.

The proposals were recommended by an independent review panel as the only way of making a "decisive break" from serious child protection failings at the department dating back to 2009, when it was placed under government supervision.

The panel's report says: "A culture of failure and disillusion pervades the service and that serves to obstruct every attempt at reform. There needs to be a line drawn under the historic failure, a separation that permits the development of a new culture."

Education Secretary Michael Gove signalled his intention to push ahead with the review panel's recommendations in a letter to Doncaster mayor Ros Jones published by the Department for Education today. In it he says: "I agree with the recommendations and will now seek to put them into effect".

Gove said that the independent trust should be in place to take over children's social care by April 2014. Legal orders will be placed that will transfer powers from the council to the trust for a period of up to ten years, with a review after five years.

"When improvements to the service are secure and confidence in Doncaster Council's ability to deliver children's social care functions is gained, those services should return to council control," Gove adds.

A commissioner of children's social care should also be appointed to implement the review panel's recommendations. Gove backs the panel's suggestion that Alan Wood, director of children's services in Hackney and one of the report authors, take on this role.

Education services will not be part of the transfer.

The DfE will provide £250,000 to fund the development of the new arrangements.

The announcement calls into question the future of the council's partnership with private consultants Impower, which was brought in only last month to help develop an improvement plan for children's services under a £1.8m, two-year contract.

Gove says in his letter: "I'm sure that this [partnership] will be important in driving improvements in practice and management immediately, and in the longer term, supporting the transition to the trust."

In a statement, Impower said it welcomed the opportunity to discuss new delivery models, and added: "We also agree that the change required is cultural and we look forward to the constructive engagement that we hope comes about as a result of the report."

The Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) warned that creating separate organisations to deliver council statutory responsibilities ran the risk of fragmenting services.

Andrew Webb, president of ADCS, said: "We must remain mindful of the potential unintended consequences of creating a trust for one aspect of a local authority’s children’s services, both in respect of the statutory roles of the director of children’s services and the lead member and in delivering an integrated response to local communities."

The Local Government Association was also sceptical about the move.

Councillor David Simmonds, chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, added: "Accountability to local residents is vital and they will want to know how the new management will be held to account for the services they provide.

“Government will now need to clearly demonstrate the benefits of this process and ensure it provides real results for the vulnerable children of Doncaster."

Gove set up the review earlier in the year in response to a series of high-profile child protection failures at the department in recent years. It was led by a team of children's services experts led by Julian Le Grand, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics.

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