WALTER CRONXITE on how the council has admitted it could take three years to fix the ‘inadequate’ children’s services department
Another senior council employee has left their job abruptly from the misfiring “People” department.
Until Friday, George Riley was listed as “Delivery Manager Children with Disabilities Service” in the children, families and learning unit on the 4th floor of Fisher’s Folly, the council offices.
Indeed, according to the council switchboard today, Riley is still listed in that role.
But colleagues in his office today said that Riley “has left the organisation”. They also confirmed that Riley’s last day was last Friday.
Riley’s departure appears to have been unplanned and unforeseen because before leaving the council, he had been arranging to attend meetings with parents this week.
Riley first joined Croydon Council in a middle-tier management role in 2013. He described his job as “Lead responsibility for the delivery of social care services to disabled children and young people in Croydon”. Since April 2016, he had been 0-25 SEND Social Care delivery manager.
Neither Riley nor his manager, Caroline Baxter, returned our calls to offer an explanation for the sudden change in circumstance.
The People department, headed by £150,000-a-year exec director Barbara Peacock, has been under the cosh for three months following a damning report from Ofsted inspectors on the failing children’s services department, which looks after children in care, fostering and adoption.
But there have also been a string of adverse reports regarding the council’s handling of cases involving children with disabilities and special educational needs. The Local Government Ombudsman has found against Croydon Council in two cases involving children and young people with disabilities in the past six months, the most recent reported here last week.
Last night, at the council’s monthly cabinet meeting, Alisa Flemming, the councillor responsible for children and families, spoke to the improvement plan which council officials had cobbled together in an effort to put right the failings. Flemming was barely coherent, spouting streams of councilspeak empty phrases, sounding very much as if she didn’t entirely understand what the council staff had told her to say.
There were, Flemming said, “learnings that we have taken on board”, and “desired impact on the ground”, “action plans”, “joint targeted areas” and, of course, there were “journeys”.
One “journey”, Flemming admitted, may last three years – the time it could take before the children’s services department is back and operating at an acceptable level.
The news was barely challenged by the opposition Tories, as politicians on both sides of the Town Hall chamber appear prepared for the interim report from the government-appointed commissioner, Eleanor Brazil, next month. It seems unlikely that Brazil will recommend that the council is fit to resume the direct management of its own children’s services department. In her previous job, at Medway Council, Peacock also oversaw an “inadequate” children’s services department, and that took more than two years to return to “good” status.
Flemming praised the hard work of council officials, something which the council leader, Tony Newman, interrupted to state, “With the obvious caveat that we shouldn’t start from this position.” Neither Newman, Flemming nor Peacock have adequately explained how we arrived in that position, either.
Newman revealed that as a result of the “very challenging Ofsted report” – a late entry for council euphemism of the year – he had had a meeting last week with Brandon Lewis, the Tory immigration minister, who had offered what Newman described as “a very sincere commitment” to helping with finance for Croydon’s children’s services because of the additional burden of the many unaccompanied minors arriving in the country at the Home Office’s building at Lunar House in Croydon.
Croydon Council has already stumped up an additional £2million towards retaining its current social workers and recruiting new ones, in the midst of another recruitment freeze at the council, introduced to try to balance the budget. They have also paid for staff to get new smart phones so that their young clients can keep in contact with them, including by using WhatsApp.
In the improvement report, which was passed by the cabinet meeting, it shows that 12 new social workers are being hired, and that they have also hired 20 more staff, including managers and lawyers, to support their work.
But given the recruitment freeze, they probably won’t be able to look to hire a replacement “Delivery Manager Children with Disabilities Service” for a while, yet.
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