Progress for council in crisis over child protection

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CHILD protection bosses threatened with privatisation by Ministers have unveiled their latest efforts to stave off the crisis, while announcing the retirement of the man who has been in charge for the past three years.

Doncaster Council has been under fire over failings in children’s services for several years, and serious mismanagement was blamed for the notorious Edlington attacks, in which two young brothers attacked two other young boys in 2009.

Before that incident, the authority had been slammed over the deaths of seven at-risk children who had been known to social workers and education Ministers subsequently announced they would send in a supervision team in a bid to secure improvements.

Chris Pratt, who yesterday announced his retirement, was drafted in as a new service chief, but at the end of last year it emerged he had failed to make significant progress, and watchdog Ofsted said performance was still among the worst in the country.

This led Education Secretary Michael Gove to tell the council’s chief executive, Jo Miller, he was ordering a new review into the service by expert Prof Julian Le Grand.

Mr Gove also warned the council it could be the first local authority in history to see a failing service privatised if Prof Le Grand recommended such a move.

In the interim, Mr Gove ordered the council to make immediate improvements and told Ms Miller to find a private sector “partner” to assist in that process while the review took place over whether the service should be removed from council control.

Yesterday Ms Miller said the council had “started the search for an improvement partner” with specialist children services’ support organisations approached to “help the council accelerate the pace of change”.

Ms Miller said the Department of Education (DfE) had approved the “tender specification” document, adding the improvement partner would be in place by the beginning of July, and would “bring with them” a successor for Mr Pratt.

The move was welcomed by the newly-elected Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones, who said: “Protecting our vulnerable children is a top priority as new Mayor of Doncaster.

“Appointing an improvement partner will supplement the Children’s Services leadership team, helping them to drive through new processes that safeguard our young people.

“This is the step change Doncaster needs to transform a service which has improved but not at the required rate.”

Ms Miller added: “I have been a strong advocate of a public-private partnership for our children’s services. This radical approach will provide the additional capacity and strategic experience needed to improve the service once and for all.

“It is important we press ahead with our improvement plans having previously been required to await DfE directions. We can’t wait on further for the outcome of Professor Julian Le Grand’s review.”