Northamptonshire's Children's Commissioner reports back to government on his findings

Malcolm Newsam was sent in by government to sort out the children's services department.
Malcolm Newsam was sent in by government to sort out the children's services department.

Children’s commissioner Malcolm Newsam has delivered his verdict on the state of children’s services to Government and his findings will be made public soon.

The experienced troubleshooter, who was involved in the turnaround of Rotherham Council after its child sexual exploitation scandal, was parachuted into Northamptonshire County Council in November after a damning Ofsted inspection. The report found that social workers were ‘drowning’ in work and that more than 200 children were not allocated a social worker.

The children’s commissioner’s brief was partly to look at the future delivery of children’s services.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “The Northamptonshire commissioner has submitted his report and its is under consideration. We will publish in due course.”

It is understood from a recent briefing Mr Newsam gave to councillors that setting up a children’s trust is likely. The two new proposed unitary authorities in the north and the west would then have contracts with the trust. This is what happened in Rotherham and in other failing children’s services departments across the country.

A letter last month from the council’s other two commissioners Brian Roberts and Tony McArdle said that despite improvements the service is still ‘fragile’.

It said: “Some of the most pressing risks identified by Ofsted have now been tackled. Most notably, unallocated assessments have been completed and workflows through the front door are more timely.

“However, more still needs to be done to ensure good decision-making and high-quality assessments are in place. Much of the inadequate performance across the service is systemic and long-standing.

“The historically poor approach to workforce attraction and retention has led to an over-reliance on inexperienced, newly qualified social workers or expensive temporary agency staff.

“A streamlined approach to recruitment has been supported by an enhanced remuneration offer for social workers and a new service design predicated on manageable workloads and realistic spans of control for managers.

“The early signs are that this will have a positive impact but presently there remain significant vacancies, caseloads in parts of the service are still too high and there are too many unallocated cases. The service remains very fragile.”

Northamptonshire’s children’s services first went into special measures in 2013.

It was later thought to be improving but the Ofsted report in October 2018 said there had been a sharp decline over the past two years.