Council chiefs will be given a bigger role in child protection, in a move set to leave them with “nowhere to hide” in the case of serious failures.
Under plans from the Department for Education, chief executives will be responsible for hiring and firing the chair of the independent boards set up to make sure local agencies are working together to protect children.
This is currently the responsibility of directors of children’s services, but the chief executives’ group Solace had been lobbying for the role to be given to chiefs.
“I’m pleased that the DfE has agreed to do this”, said Mark Rogers, chief executive of Solihull MBC and chair Solace’s children’s policy network.
“This will strengthen chief executives’ connection to safeguarding and give them more accountability. There will be nowhere to hide if things go badly wrong”.
The DfE plan was published in its Working Together guidance on Thursday. The document also said the government would create a national panel of independent experts to advise local safeguarding boards on the publication of “serious case reviews” – which report on failures in the case of child deaths or serious harm.
The new national panel will advise local groups on how to conduct the reviews and whether they should make the reports public. Education secretary Michael Gove has criticised some local safeguarding boards over serious case reviews. He said last year that a review into a violent attack by two young boys in Edlington, Doncaster, was inadequate.
Debbie Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, has criticised the plan for the new national body. “Whilst we welcome the removal of the prescription around how serious case reviews are to be conducted, the establishment of the independent panel feels like an unnecessary bureaucratic intervention on the part of central government”, she said. “We look forward to discussing this further with ministers”.
But Mr Rogers said he was “relaxed” about the new national body. “There was a time when it looked as though Michael Gove might take the decisions [around serious case reviews] out of local hands altogether, but I think this is a happy medium”, he said.
“I think it has good potential as long as it is implemented sensibly and in consultation with local government”.