‘You can trust us’ insist council bosses

Sue Harrison

Sue Harrison

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SHELL-SHOCKED town hall bosses say people CAN trust them to protect vulnerable children – despite a damning report by Government inspectors.

The Gazette, yesterday, revealed how Ofsted had labelled Blackpool Council’s children’s services department “inadequate” – the watchdog’s lowest ranking – following an inspection last month.

The report said children had been let down by a series of failings in the system designed to protect them from harm.

But today recently appointed director of children’s services Sue Harrison pledged immediate change and said children would come first in future.

She told The Gazette: “Blackpool is the sixth most deprived local authority area in the country, which means some of the most vulnerable children live here and we are their only safety net.

“We cannot let them down – that is not an option.

“If we fail, then there is no-one else so we have to make sure the child is at the heart of every decision we make.”

Mrs Harrison, who took over her role on May 1, added: “The public can be assured that from now on we are making sure we take appropriate action with every new case that comes through the door.

“I would urge everybody to have the utmost confidence in an open, honest and transparent service.

“The new way forward is putting children first, and people should not hesitate to contact children’s services if they have any concerns about the welfare of a child.”

The damning report by inspectors found:

n Procedures to protect youngsters were “inadequate”

n Social workers did not understand their roles

n Cases were closed while children were still at risk

n Care bosses had not attended vital meetings

n Failings may have been going on for 15 years

Mrs Harrison said immediate action in response to the report included double checking all cases from the last six months, the appointment of an interim assistant director of children’s services as well as a principal social worker, the bringing in of additional social workers and recruiting of four new staff members to review case files.

She added: “Every single case that has been closed in the last six months with no further action required will be double-checked to ensure that was the right decision.

“We will be looking at all aspects of our children’s protection plan to make sure they are receiving support and are monitored correctly.

“We are also introducing a new early support strategy in September because if we can help families earlier, they wouldn’t need to be in the social services system.

“To get to being a good authority, we are going to need a culture change at every level.

“There will be a whole programme of training and development and our principal social worker will focus on that.

“In the authority, we do have good social workers and examples of good practice and we need to share that.”

Mrs Harrison has already held a no-holds barred meeting with the council’s 140 social workers about the failings identified in the report.

She said: “It is my mission to make sure I have the tools for them to do the job.

“Our aim is to become a good authority, and then outstanding.”

It had been widely reported that Ofsted inspectors had found some children had been harmed because of social workers’ poor work, something Blackpool Council refuted.

And Ofsted bosses yesterday admitted this was a mistake in a summary document attached to the full report.

Lib Dem councillor Douglas Green, who will be part of a council select committee being set up to investigate how the failings came about, said he was appalled by how long the bad practices had been in place.

He added: “I think this shows we need to go back to a robust system of control by councillors.

“These failings have coincided with the loss of the service committees when officers had to report back regularly to councillors with detailed performance reports.

“Councillors just didn’t know about the lack of control going on, and they need to be more involved on a day-to-day basis particularly with something as important as children’s services and protecting our vulnerable children.”

And Laurance Hancock, manager of The Boathouse Project in South Shore which works with youngsters from deprived backgrounds, said he could understand the pressure on social workers.

He added: “I have had to make referrals and the response in serious cases has always been very prompt.

“It is all very well Ofsted coming in with an idealistic approach but some social workers have got very heavy caseloads.

“They are under immense pressure due to the large number of families in Blackpool with complex issues.

“We are constantly seeing new kids coming on the radar because families come to Blackpool to try and escape their problems.”