Crisis of children in care

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A growing crisis in Calderdale children’s care has prompted councillors to appoint a “select committee” to investigate what has been going on in the troubled department.

It has also brought a warning that without immediate and drastic action, the Government could intervene in the way services are run for vulnerable children across Calderdale.

Coun John Ford, who has been involved in education for nearly 40 years.

He said: “I can’t believe what’s going on. It seems like the department is completely failing in its duty in respect to safeguarding vulnerable children.

“I never thought I would see anything like this and I believe that without major improvements, sooner or later the Government Office will decide that the service is unfit for purpose and will step in to run it,” said Coun Ford (Con, Elland).

The scrutiny panel’s investigation – due to begin on Tuesday – will look at why, after nearly two years, Ofsted’s assessment of Calderdale Council’s children’s services is that it still performs “poorly”.

It is expected to take evidence from witnesses, to study progress on Ofsted’s official “Notice to Improve”, complaints raised by services users, the reasons behind a £2.5 million overspend and possibly the circumstances surrounding the recent suspension of children’s director Janet Donaldson and the sudden departure of the head of child care services Pixley Clarke.

Howard Blagbrough, who persuaded the scrutiny panel to set up an inquiry, said he expected it to meet for the first time on Tuesday, collect evidence in the run up to Christmas and publish its report by January 17.

“Perhaps we have been kept in the dark on some of things but it is vital that those issues which affect looked after children are quickly and fully addressed.

“These are tough times and it is not easy for anyone but the situation is urgent and I hope people will provide the in-depth information we need to deal with this situation,” said Coun Blagbrough (Con, Brighouse).

Scrutiny panel chairman Colin Raistrick said the review would be carried out urgently and in-depth.

“There has been some turmoil in the department and we want to reassure ourselves that the work which is underway will resolve that.

“I want to make it clear that this is not a witch hunt, or politically motivated and I would expect the final report to be made public,” said Coun Raistrick (Ind, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe).

*In a report this week, Ofsted inspector Juliet Winstanley said: “The weaknesses in safeguarding services are significant and improving the quality remains the major area for development.

“However, the large majority of settings and institutions inspected by us are good or better and the very large majority help children and young people to enjoy learning and to stay safe.”