The press release issued by council leader Tony Newman just before Christmas proclaiming success in turning around Croydon’s failing children’s services department turns out to have been the epitome of “fake news”. Others might be less charitable, and more accurate, in their description, and call it deceit by omission.
Sources inside the council offices at Fisher’s Folly confirm that Eleanor Brazil, the government commissioner appointed in September because Croydon could not be trusted to run a satisfactory or safe children’s services department, has had her term of engagement extended by three months.
They also confirm that officers from another London council have been brought in to supervise the operation of Croydon’s children’s services. These council officials are from Camden.
The imposition of help from another local authority, as recommended in Brazil’s report, was a strict condition of the Department for Education not taking further intervention action.
Which is not quite the same as the cheery message Newman delivered four days before Christmas, when he issued an official press release from the council propaganda department claiming to have the “confidence” of the education department minister.
Despite requests, neither Newman nor the council press office has dared to publish the full text of the letter from Robert Goodwill, the Tory Government’s minister of state for children and families. You can draw your own conclusions why.
Croydon’s children’s services has been struggling to cope with its growing workload for a number of years, as austerity-imposed staffing cuts and difficulties in recruitment have reduced the number of social workers in the department. Highly stressed staff report that they are still having to handle twice the number of cases an individual social worker is supposed to cope with, and there remains an absence of experienced managers to assist with the workload.
Brazil was parachuted in to Croydon in September after a visit by Ofsted inspectors found that the children’s services department – which oversees fostering and adoption, cared-for and vulnerable children and young adults – had been found to have serious failings and was declared “inadequate”.
At least three senior managers from the council’s People department have left their jobs since the Ofsted visit, as Newman and the Labour-run council have faced the biggest crisis of their administration.
And Newman’s deliberately misleading statement issued before Christmas may yet backfire on his faltering Labour administration, as it is seen as a clumsy and ill-advised attempt to try to politicise the crisis in children’s services.
After the Ofsted report was published, a “recovery board” – a committee to oversee the work being done – was established with cross-party support sought from the opposition Tory group, as Councillor Maria Gatland was included on that panel.
But there is mounting anger among the opposition that while Newman engages in ham-fisted attempts at political point-scoring, with local elections just four months away, Gatland has been kept out of the loop, denied sight of the Brazil report and not provided with a copy of the minister’s letter.
Indeed, the Conservative councillor was not even aware that the council had received the Goodfellow letter until it was announced by the council press office on December 21.
In a statement published over the Christmas period, Gatland said, “It’s deeply concerning that the minister is still not satisfied that Labour can deliver the necessary improvement without some outside help and expertise.
“I hope a positive partnership can be set up as soon as possible so we can be reassured that Croydon’s children and young people are receiving the best support and protection.”
The main areas of concern outlined in Brazil’s report to the DfE are understood to include the performance of assessments of children in need of help or at risk; issues around the children’s services workforce; and mounting worries about vulnerable adolescents, in particular those who go missing, and the roles of gangs.
There continues to be a series of monitoring visits by Ofsted inspectors, then next expected in a few weeks, which will be focused on the care offered to vulnerable adolescents, many of whom arrive in Croydon to register at the Home Office as unaccompanied asylum seekers.
Brazil will continue to supervise Croydon Council’s children’s services into March to broker a relationship between Croydon and their Camden colleagues – all of which will need to be funded by Croydon. Since September, Croydon has announced additional spending of £2million in children’s services, to retain staff, boost recruitment, and improve the equipment issued to staff.
- Damning verdict on Croydon’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services
- Commissioner appointed to oversee children’s services
- Two key figures leave the council over Ofsted inspectors’ report
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