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16 August 2013, 15:24
A Government Minister has warned Norfolk County Council to improve Children's Services or they'll step in.
MP Edward Timpson says they need to make 'rapid' improvements following a series of poor reports and critical Ofsted's have led to the Director stepping down and a new one being appointment.
The new Interim Director of Children's Services at Norfolk County Council has vowed to dramatically improve the department's performance following a critical Ofsted report.
Sheila Lock, who has more than 30 years of experience in public services and has turned around poor performance in a number of authorities - including leading one out of a notice to improve - has spoken out following an Ofsted inspection rating the county's services to Looked After Children as "inadequate".
In a letter to the council, Mr Timpson acknowledges that the Authority has "taken prompt action to secure improvement". However, he says three separate Ofsted reports* over six months suggest "widespread and systemic problems across Children's Services."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Any failure in children's services is very serious. We are very concerned about the inadequate arrangements for the protection of children as well as school improvement in Norfolk.
"It is vital there is a relentless focus on turning around local arrangements for children's services. We are working with Norfolk to make sure their plans for improvement are robust and undertaken as a priority, and expect to see rapid improvement across all services. Ministers have written to the Leader of the Council to say they are minded to issue a Statutory Direction.”
Ms Lock said: "Ofsted and the Government have voiced their concerns about the performance of this department and they are right to do so because we need to do better by children, young people and families in Norfolk. Our performance isn't good enough and we must do something to change that.
"Improving services for Norfolk children and families is the reason why I am here, and I am certain that by pulling together, services can improve. We must all focus on getting the basics right and leading, managing and providing services well.
"The improvement starts with making sure we have solid foundations and our services and support are effective. By doing this we can make sure the additional £16.5million investment in Children's Services promised by the Cabinet is used in the most effective way possible and makes the biggest difference for families."
Ms Lock's principal focus to deliver significant improvements in Children's Services will be on:
- Getting the basics right
- Tackling performance in the department
- Building successful partnerships with other agencies and organisations
- Delivering effective leadership and management across services
The Authority's services for Looked After Children have been judged "inadequate" by the Ofsted inspectors and although they said there was a determination to make improvements, there was insufficient capacity in the current system to cope with demand.
Inspectors visited the county in July and, although they found some examples of good quality social work, which was “making a discernible difference to improve the lives of children and young people,” they said this was inconsistent across the county.
James Joyce, Cabinet Member for Safeguarding Children at Norfolk County Council, said: “We want the absolute best for Norfolk’s children and young people, and I know that in the past Norfolk did not provide the highest standards of service. Change is happening now.
"Since we came into office at the end of May, we have been working together to make sure families in Norfolk get the service they deserve.
"It is now time to move forward and press ahead with making immediate improvements. We have a new experienced interim director in place who has a very clear idea of what needs to happen to see this department improve and, together with her direction, the many dedicated people working in Children's Services in Norfolk and the additional investment, which we announced, will make a real difference to families and give the children of Norfolk the service they deserve."