Report criticising Kirklees’ children’s services ‘came as no surprise’

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An Ofsted report that deemed children’s services in Kirklees as inadequate “came as no surprise”, according to trade union chiefs.

Kirklees Unison claims that its social workers have been subjected to poor management, high staff turnover and unreasonable workloads over the past few years by Kirklees Council.

Last week’s report said the failures were “due to serious and widespread failures which result in some children not being protected or having their needs met.”

It also criticised services for children being looked after and those on the “edge of care.”

In the wake of the report, the government installed Eleanor Brazil as the Children’s Services Commissioner for the council.

She will lead a three-month probe into the services before determining whether or not the council will lose control of its children’s services.

Paul Holmes, branch secretary of Kirklees Unison, says that the problems highlighted in the report were common knowledge for social workers in the region.

“The report came as no surprise to any Unison members in Kirklees,” he said.

“We’ve been banging at their door for two years and everything we have complained about is in the report.

“I could have written the report myself, 12 months ago.

“No-one takes pleasure in these facts, but facts they are.

“We absolutely cannot continue like this.

“If you don’t get a grip on the situation early doors, then it just gets worse.”

Mr Holmes claims that an over-reliance by the council on agency staff is not only a financial worry but also creates more problems for the dwindling full-time staff.

A spokesperson from Kirklees Council confirmed that a quarter of children’s services staff are agency workers.

The spokesperson said: “Like all councils across the country, Kirklees are struggling to recruit and retain social workers and as such have taken on agency staff to fill that gap.

“At present agency staff make up around 25 per cent of our staff.

“Whilst having their own staff is the council’s preference, they feel that agency staff can also bring benefits to the service such as learning from other councils and additional skills and experience.”

The spokesperson added: “Since the beginning of 2016, 26 practitioners have left the social work team and the council will be gathering their reasons for leaving and this will influence their support and training plans for the future.”

Mr Holmes said: “Agency workers would normally have been people who were retired or were looking for extra hours.

“Now, we’re seeing people in their 20s and 30s leaving to become agency workers.

“That’s because of two reasons.

“One, they get more money because councils are throwing money at social workers.

“The second reason is that agency workers don’t have to deal with difficult cases as temporary staff bring a lack of consistency to children.

“It can be a lethal combination.

“I read that £3.5m has been spent on agency staff in the last eight months - that’s an enormous sum of money for a council to pay out.

“We want to see the improvements but the proof of the pudding is always in the eating.

“We won’t stand by and let children’s services be dismantled and taken out of local, democratic control.

“Someone has to take responsibility.”

Councillor Erin Hill, Kirklees Council cabinet member for children’s services, said: “I absolutely respect and support the right of trade unions to defend their members.

“From day one I have been clear that supporting social workers is key if we are to do right by children in our care.

“We have introduced a raft of measures to improve already, but my message to staff and to Unison is this: we want to support you.

“My door is always open to talk about how we can get that right.”

Sarah Callaghan, Kirklees Council’s Director of Children’s Services, said: “We value staff and see them as our greatest asset however our priority will always be the safety of children and young people.

“As such, it is critically important that we have high expectations of our staff and in order to reach these high expectations we need to put in place the tools to support staff to achieve them.

“We have put in place a number of tools to ensure our staff can be their very best, this included launching our Best Practice Standards which clearly demonstrates what good practice looks like; and promoting our Quality Assurance Framework - Achieving Excellence.”

“The council is aware that trade unions have raised concerns over the staffing situation.

“We will continue to work with them and staff, to ensure they feel supported and empowered to do their best.”

* Meanwhile, the council has moved to clarify claims regarding the salary of the previous Director of Children’s Services.

It was claimed by Unison that Alison O’Sullivan, who left the role 18 months ago, was paid £20,000 more than the pay grade for the job.

The council said: “In response to another point raised by Unison, the council has clarified that the former director of children’s services was paid the salary that was stated on the original job advertisement.

“This was the going rate for a Director of Children’s Services at that time.”