Birmingham & Black Country

Sandwell Council children's services facing takeover

Sandwell council house
Image caption Sandwell children's services were ranked "inadequate" in both 2013 and 2015

Children's services in Sandwell - branded "inadequate" by Ofsted in June - could be taken over within a year.

Under plans announced by the prime minister, failing departments will have six months to improve or be taken over by high-performing councils or charities.

Sandwell's summer rating came after an equally poor 2013 inspection prompted a boss and a cabinet member to quit.

David Cameron said the plan would mean "not a single child is left behind".

Simon Hackett, cabinet member for children's services at Sandwell Council said: "Our number one priority is to look after children and young people in Sandwell.

"We are working hard to make improvements and welcome the appointment of a commissioner who will help us to achieve this."

Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson announced Eleanor Brazil would be the new commissioner.

"Eleanor has considerable experience of helping failing local authorities to improve, most recently in Slough, where her leadership led to the successful establishment of the Slough Children's Services Trust," he said.

'Rapid improvement'

Ms Brazil said she hoped to see "rapid improvement" and would be be "looking carefully" at alternative ways of delivering services.

Top-performing councils, experts in child protection and charities will be sent to run the worst units and will have the power to remove members of staff.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless welcomed the changes, saying services had too frequently failed to protect children.

"When this happens, swift action is an absolute priority to prevent tragedies that shame us all," he said.

"We need to ensure that if tragedy does befall a child, that we then learn the lessons from serious case reviews, something that year after year is not done."

In June, Ofsted said Sandwell's children's services department "does not fully understand the scale and prevalence of child sexual exploitation".

The report found: "There are widespread and serious failures that create or leave children being harmed or at risk of harm.

"Leaders and managers have not been able to demonstrate sufficient understanding of failures and have been ineffective in prioritising, challenging and making improvements."

'Difficult circumstances'

But social work professor Ray Jones, appointed by the education secretary in 2013 to advise Sandwell's turnaround, has said the local authority has improved.

"When I went there first, the department was unstable, there was a backlog and they were not in control. But over the past two years I've been really impressed.

"They're in control and largely on top of what needs to be doing.

"The thing is that they're working in very difficult circumstances but they have a strong management and leadership team, and a dedicated workforce doing a pretty good job," said Professor Jones.

"I have confidence in Sandwell. They know what they need to be doing, and will continue to make progress."

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