Disgraced Rotherham council unveils new ‘child strategy’ to escape past

Rotherham town centre.
Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Rotherham town centre. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
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ROTHERHAM Council says it hopes to put “its past behind it” with plans to ensure every child in the borough is supported “to be the best they can”.

The authority came under intense scrutiny following the publication of the Jay Report into child sexual exploitation in the town in 2014, which resulted in the council being placed under the control of Government-appointed commissioners.

Now, a report going before commissioners and senior councillors next Monday outlines plans to make Rotherham a “child-centred borough” and for the council to be seen as a benchmark for other local authorities.

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It would include setting up a new board to monitor progress on six “themes”, which include keeping children safe and healthy, ensuring they reach their potential, and a focus on the rights and voice of the child.

The council says its ambition is to “change the experiences of children and young people in Rotherham” and will see communities and councillors “combine their resources” to support every child to be the best they can.

Rotherham Council’s deputy leader Coun Gordon Watson said: “A child-centred borough means putting children at the heart of everything. It means children can be heard; that we will help them to reach their potential and that we will keep children safe and healthy so we can continue to drive forward improvements.

“We’ve begun to make many improvements, and in particular in the way we look after our most vulnerable children, but clearly we want to be ambitious for all of Rotherham’s children which is why this new strategy puts children at the centre of council activity. Every child deserves the best start in life and this vision is about delivering this.”

That vision could also include closing two council-run children’s homes as part of plans to move away from “the legacy of poorly performing ‘inadequate’ services” to a position of “strength and confidence”, a separate report to the same meeting said.

The council has reviewed the whole of its residential care services for young people as part of the child-centered borough plan, and found that “too many” looked after children live in residential care and that more should be placed in family-based settings.

The report recommends a consultation on closing two of its three children’s homes, Silverwood and Cherry Tree House. Silverwood is the only home that currently provides long-term care for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, while Cherry Tree, and the third, Liberty House, provide both long-term care and short breaks for children with disabilities.

The report also recommends re-locating transitional services for children leaving care from a site at Nelson Street to the existing provision at Hollowgate. Last year the council closed two children’s homes – St Edmunds and Woodview – after they failed to meet standards.

Families who use the homes, as well as staff, will be being consulted over the possible closure.

A council spokesman said: “The review makes it clear that both Silverwood and Cherry Tree House, although not deemed unsafe, do not provide the best possible homes for young people and that the council should now look to close them. Rotherham Council is on a significant improvement journey which has already seen major changes across many children’s services.”