Yorkshire council loses control of children's services as it 'lacks capability' to make swift improvements

Bradford Council has been stripped of control over the beleaguered department which works to protect vulnerable children.

Bradford Council has lost control of its children's services department
Bradford Council has lost control of its children's services department

It comes after Government-appointed commissioner Steve Walker conducted a three-month review of children’s services and found the council “lacked the capacity and capability to improve services at pace on its own” and an “alternative delivery model” was needed.

The Department for Education (DfE) said a not-for-profit trust, with an independent chair and board of directors, will take charge of the department and it will be set up and owned by the council but "operate at arms length".

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Mr Walker was brought in after Ofsted rated the department inadequate in 2018 and criticised the “slow pace of change” during follow-up visits.

Three directors of the struggling department have quit since it was rated inadequate and last year it was heavily criticised after the family of Keighley toddler Star Hobson revealed they had asked social workers to intervene five times before she was murdered by her mother’s partner Savannah Brockhill.

The DfE said council-owned trusts have been used to drive improvements in several areas, including Sunderland, where the council’s children’s services department went from inadequate to outstanding in three years.

Another independent commissioner will be appointed to oversee the transition period in Bradford.

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Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “Keeping vulnerable children safe from harm is non-negotiable. Where a council is not meeting its duty to do this, we will take action to protect children and put their needs first.

“It’s clear from the recommendations made by the commissioner in Bradford that the council needs support to improve and so I’m pleased that Bradford Council have agreed to establish a new trust that will bring positive change for the council and independent oversight that drives improvements.”

Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, said: “Nothing is more important to us than the protection of children in our district. All children deserve to have a happy childhood and full opportunity to flourish.

“We have worked hard, through the pandemic, to improve children’s services and Government commissioner Steve Walker has recognised this. Our commitment is evident in the significant investment in services and wider intensive support from across the Council but we know the pace of improvement needs to quicken.

“In response to the commissioner’s report to the secretary of state, we are creating a council-owned children’s company. We are working positively and constructively with Government in the best interests of our children.”

The Government has also said the independent Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel will now examine the Star Hobson case, as well as the case of murdered six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, in order to “identify local and national improvements needed by safeguarding agencies”.

The findings of the review are due to be published in May.

A local independent review into the response of social workers dealing with Star’s case, which was commissioned by the council in December, was due to be completed this month but it has been delayed.

Brockhill, a 28-year-old security guard, was jailed for life at Bradford Crown Court in December for murdering Star at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire, in September 2020.

Star’s mother Frankie Smith, 20, was sentenced to eight years for causing or allowing the youngster’s death.