‘I lost sleep over child services shaming’

Council leader speaks out after report shows progress
Council leader speaks out after report shows progress
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Still more work to do - that is the verdict from Blackpool’s council leader after improvements to the authority’s child protection service were officially recognised.

Three years after the council got a sharp wake up call over the way it cared for its most vulnerable children, an improvement notice which had been served on the authority has been lifted, as reported last week.

Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn

Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn

Council leader Simon Blackburn admitted he “lost sleep” over the seriousness of the issue, but today says he believes it was a good thing for the council to be brought to task over its performance.

He said: “I haven’t viewed the last three years as a bad thing.

“It was something that absolutely needed to happen and we have been able to access help and information not just from the Department for Education, but from experts all over the country.

“It has forced the authority to address issues that have been rumbling away for the last 20 years.”

It has forced the authority to address issues that have been rumbling away for the last 20 years

Simon Blackburn

And he vowed the improvements are not finished yet.

Social work bosses are aiming for a ‘good’ rating from the next Ofsted inspection.

Coun Blackburn said: “There is a huge amount of work still to do.

“I am not satisfied with us being a ‘satisfactory’ authority, I want us to be a ‘good’ authority.

“You can never rule out a child death in any town or city.

“It is not possible to design systems which always protect everyone from evil people.

“What we can do is have processes in place that mean no-one will slip through the net again.

“Child sexual exploitation is a concern to authorities up and down the country and it is one of the risks associated with seaside towns.

“You can never take your eye off the ball because those authorities that have learned painful lessons and ultimately it is the children who suffer from that lack of focus.”

The July 2012 Ofsted report described the authority’s performance as failing’ and gave it a rating of inadequate’ across all areas of responsibility in relation to the protection of children from harm.

But following a radical overhaul which has included recruiting more social workers, working more closely with other agencies such as the police, and reviewing procedures, the Government has praised the “significant improvement” made by the service.

Among the achievements has been a reduction in the level of looked after children to 441 but it is hoped to bring this number down even further.

Measures to accomplish this include better use of legal powers and talking to others involved in childcare such as teachers, while 16 new social workers have been recruited.

Coun Blackburn said: “All this improvement has had to go on against a backdrop of falling resources.

“Investing in 16 new social workers is based on a business case that if as a result we see a reduction in the number of children in care, as it has, then that creates a significant saving.

“We have also invested in the legal side of children’s services because sometimes it is a legal bottleneck that is keeping children in care.

“Children want to stay with a family member if they are taken out of the chaos they are in.

“Another issue is we have to make sure social workers have a manageable caseload and we are doing this for example by working with schools more to support parents.

“We need to target resources at those phone calls and emails that really make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.”