Northamptonshire children’s services has lurched into a fresh crisis as the top boss and her deputy have quit the authority.
Sally Hodges, who joined the failing children’s department in February, will be leaving Northamptonshire County Council at the end of the month followed by her hugely experienced second-in-command Jean Imray.
The news comes just a week after it was announced that Children’s Commissioner Malcolm Newsam was to leave. His job was to oversee the children’s department which has been failing the county’s vulnerable children.
The service had needed to save £10m from its overall budget this year.
But with a historic reliance on out-of-county residential places for children in care and a high level of agency workers due to social workers not wanting to join the authority, the council is finding it very difficult to make the savings.
The loss of the three highly experienced social workers is a huge blow to the council. It also follows the recent departure of senior staff from the authority’s place directorate.
In an email sent to staff this morning NCC chief executive Theresa Grant said: “Sally has done a tremendous job of leading our children’s services through a very challenging time but her contract was a limited one and she is stepping away in order that a new director can take up the reins and prepare for the setting up of the children’s trust in 2020.
“Children’s services is on a significant improvement programme following an inspection by Ofsted and Sally has been key in driving this change forward. Sally’s leadership has encouraged staff and others to maintain their focus on the children we look after and our responsibilities to them.
“Sally will work with us until Friday, October 25. We have been recruiting a senior leader to undertake this next stage in our move to the trust’s formation. We aim to appoint in the next few weeks to make the transition as seamless as possible.
“I have great respect for all that Sally has done, and we all wish her well.”
Jean Imray, who held the post of assistant director of early years and safeguarding, had been involved with Rotherham council in recent years. She only joined the authority in April.
A new children’s commissioner will be announced by government later this week. The reasons why Mr Newsam decided to go are unknown.
Shadow portfolio holder for children’s services Labour Cllr Jane Birch said: “This is disastrous. I think operationally Sally Hodges and Jean Imray had begun to sort things and were doing everything they could.
“I think the priority of the council is to save money which is utterly morally bankrupt.
“I would like to see an inquiry into what has happened. At the moment we are a ship without a rudder and about to crash into the rocks.”
Labour councillor and children’s advocate Cllr Danielle Stone said the two government commissioners sent into improve the council had instead caused instability.
She said: “They may have improved the finances but they have caused instability. Money is being spent on the upper echelons and consultants rather than existing staff. This is a huge crisis. Our children are suffering and I think that as of today a halt needs to be put on the children’s trust immediately as our services are not in a fit state to transfer over.”
It has also been revealed that the number of children in need without a social worker has gone back up to 232. An Ofsted inspection into the department said it was inadequate and that social workers were ‘drowning in work’.
The department was thrown into the national spotlight this summer when two serious case reviews into the murders of two-year-old Dylan Tiffin-Brown and one-year-old Eve Rose Muggleton found there were failings in how the children were protected by social services.
The Northamptonshire children’s department is currently £7m over budget and the authority, which overspent by £35m in 2017/18, is predicting it will overspend by £4m this financial year.