Children's services in local government will be taken over if they are deemed to be failing by Ofsted, David Cameron is announcing today. In an effort to avoid child abuse cases such as those in Rochdale and Rotherham, the government will carry out about more emergency inspections and services which fail to improve within six months will be taken over by higher performing local authorities. The Prime Minister says:
'Children’s services support the most vulnerable children in our society. They are in our care; we, the state, are their parents; and we are failing them. It is our duty to put this right; to say poorly performing local authorities: improve, or be taken over. We will not stand by while children are let down by inadequate social services'.
As well as the new ‘academy style system’ for monitoring children’s services, the government is pumping £100 million into enticing graduates into social work. But how will local councils cope with these greater demands while their budgets are being slashed? On the Today programme this morning, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said it’s about ‘different ways of working, not just carrying on the same old’:
‘It’s not just about money. As I say, local authorities have protected children’s services and we do put money in when a trust is being setup. But it’s also about obviously the quality of the workforce but it’s also about the quality of the leadership of those children services department and that’s where these new arrangements come into their own'.
Morgan also explained how failing childcare services would be taken over, pointing to the way it has been done in the past:
‘We have appointed a commissioner – someone who is respected in the field with lots of experience, who will go in and look at the state of the children services department and then, if necessary, they will appoint a trust which is a not-for-profit organisation, which could be run by something like a community interest company or a charity, to run the services to make sure they get back up to the level'.
Cameron is talking up today's announcement, describing it as 'one of the big landmark reforms of this Parliament, as transformative as what we did in education in the last'. But this is unlikely to appease local authorities who are struggling to protect childcare services — for example, Newcastle says 29 social workers will be affected by its latest funding settlement. Talking about 'different ways of working' tends to be much easier than actually doing it.