CROYDON IN CRISIS: The team of social workers which helped to drag the council’s children’s services department from an Ofsted rating of ‘Inadequate’ to ‘Good’ is breaking up, with increasing concern for the youngsters in the care of the local authority, KEN LEE reports
Sources at Fisher’s Folly relate growing disquiet about the management style of the council’s £800-per-day interim executive director for children, families and education, Debbie Jones.
This comes after the news, reported exclusively by Inside Croydon at the weekend, that Nick Pendry is quitting his role as director of early help and children’s social care. Pendry follows his former boss, Rob Henderson, in leaving the council.
Pendry and Henderson both joined Croydon in early 2019, nearly two years after Ofsted inspectors had issued a damning report into the council’s children’s services, where some of those in the local authority’s care were assessed as being at risk of serious harm. Ofsted rated Croydon’s children’s services as “Inadequate” in July 2017, and it took almost three years, a major recruitment drive for additional social workers and £30million extra council spending to drag the department back to a “Good” rating by March this year.
Now, though, with the council having gone bust and cuts being made even within essential service areas, some working in the children’s department fear that any gains made by Henderson, Pendry and their colleagues could soon be lost.
The children’s services department’s failure to “manage demand” was given as one of the reasons for the council’s financial crisis in a report from auditors.
Pendry is the third director-level departure from Croydon, in the month since the issuing of a Section 114 notice to admit that the council has gone bust.
It was Henderson’s departure as exec director of the children and education department that opened the vacancy for Jones to be appointed to fill in October. But the 70-year-old arrived in Croydon with not exactly a blemish-free record from her previous senior positions.
When children’s services in Tower Hamlets, with Jones in charge, were given their own “Inadquate” rating by Ofsted, she shrugged off these serious shortcomings in her department as simply being sent to “the naughty step”.
It was in 2015 that Shamima Begum and two other girls from the borough were radicalised in one of its state schools before escaping to Syria to become “jihadi brides”. Lawyers for Begum’s family accused their local authority (and therefore Jones) of failing in their duties to safeguard the girls. Extraordinarily, Tower Hamlets, under Jones, never conducted any serious case reviews into the three girls, as would usually be expected.
Now, sources at Fisher’s Folly have told Inside Croydon that they believe it was his treatment by Jones which swayed Pendry into handing in his resignation.
Just a fortnight earlier before he quit, Pendry had assured colleagues that he was staying in Croydon “for the long haul”.
But staff say that they were disgusted when Jones allegedly told Pendry in a meeting to “shut up”. Pendry’s resignation followed soon after.
One witness at the meeting told Inside Croydon, “She is ruthless and cares about her reputation, rather than the children.
“She was an odd figure for the council to recruit, considering her leadership got Tower Hamlets an ‘Inadequate’ with Ofsted.
“Now we are hearing that children will have to leave foster homes and children’s homes where they are settled and happy and doing well, to move to cheaper ones to save money.
“It’s a disgrace when you consider she is on £800 a day!”
Inside Croydon approached Pendry for comment regarding the allegation that he was told to “shut up”, but he did not respond.
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