WALTER CRONXITE on the anxious wait at the Town Hall for the latest update on the council’s children’s services department
Tony Newman, Croydon’s council leader, was described as “channeling his inner Young Mr Grace” at a meeting of his close circle of councillors last week when he gave his verdict on the latest update report on the state of the borough’s children’s services department.
“He didn’t quite use the words, ‘You’ve all done very well’,” our Katharine Street source said, “but that was his message.”
Our source was referring to the catch-phrase of a character in the 1970s sit-com, Are You Being Served, where the department store’s owner would arrive on set in the midst of some calamity or chaos, smile benignly, and then leave none the wiser, with a cheery wave. It may be an apt analogy.
At the meeting of the Labour council’s political cabinet, Newman was rallying his troops’ morale by giving his verdict on the latest report from Eleanor Brazil, the government inspector appointed in September after Ofsted decreed that Croydon’s children’s services department is “inadequate”.
Copies of Brazil’s submission to the Secretary of State for Education were not distributed to councillors at the meeting. They just had to take Newman’s word for it.
The Ofsted inspectors were expected to make a return visit to Croydon this month, to appraise the progress, if any, that has been made in the last six months since their original inspection sounded alarm signals over the safety of many of the borough’s most vulnerable children.
According to Croydon Council social workers, if anything the situation has worsened in the past four months, as they continue to try to cope with mounting workloads, despite Newman and the council CEO, Jo Negrini, throwing an extra £2million at the problem.
Newman and the council are seeking to get Brazil’s update report – which is separate from the Ofsted review – published before Christmas. If the Ofsted inspectors are not satisfied with progress, then the running of the children’s services department could be taken out of the hands of Croydon Council, and instead run from Whitehall.
It is understood that Brazil has said that Croydon is showing the capacity to deliver sustained improvement. No improvement in the quality of care would be expected by this time, though Town Hall sources suggest that if Croydon didn’t have the capacity to improve, a takeover team would have already been in place.
Croydon has created two new social work teams, though not from hiring full-time, permanent staff, but through hiring-in agency social workers.
“It’s all a reflection of how, for seven years now, the council has been applying austerity measures and cutting staff, at a time when the demand for services have been increasing,” our source said.
- Inside Fisher’s Folly, council staff tell of social workers in children’s services each having to handle more than 30 cases at any time – and often more than double the recommended case load of 16.
- They report a lack of managers to oversee the social workers’ caseload and provide vital support.
- Work related stress is a continuing and growing concern among the council’s social work staff.
- While two senior management figures in children’s services left their jobs in the summer, since then the head of special educational needs – a separate, but related department – has also moved on, as yet unreplaced.
- And, as was highlighted by the Ofsted inspection in the summer, much of the children’s services workload is being handled by first-year social workers, with little experience and even less supervision.
- Many of these staff opt to move to other local authorities once their year-long assignment in Croydon is completed, leading to a lack of continuity in care.
Until Brazil’s report is published and the inspectors’ review visit concluded, Newman, Negrini, Barbara Peacock, the council’s executive director for “People”, and Alisa Flemming, the unimpressive cabinet member responsible, face an anxious wait.
“How some of these people have hung on to their positions through all this is extraordinary,” one senior council figure commented this week.
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