The government has appointed a commissioner to assess whether Wakefield MDC should lose operational control of children’s social care services, under a direction issued today.
Ofsted inspectors rated the council ’inadequate’ under all measures after they found “serious and widespread failings” during a visit in June, with risks to children unidentified and no appropriate action taken to protect them.
The direction said education secretary Damian Hinds has appointed Peter Dwyer, former director of children’s services at North Yorkshire CC, as commissioner to oversee improvement at Wakefield and assess whether the council has the “capacity and capability” to drive up standards “in a reasonable timeframe”.
It added the council must “co-operate with a commissioner-led review as to whether the most effective way of securing and sustaining improvement in Wakefield is to remove operational control of children’s social care services from the council for a period of time”.
Mr Dwyer will also advise the secretary of state on “relevant” delivery and governance arrangements for children’s social care after considering “local circumstances and the views of the council and key partners”.
The direction said the commissioner will report to the education secretary by 21 November.
Wakefield is the first council to receive an inadequate rating under the Inspection of Local Authority Childrens Services system, introduced in April. The framework is meant to be more proportionate, with one-week inspections every three years for councils rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. Those rated as ‘requires improvement’ are inspected for two-weeks every three years and undergo at least one “focused” visit between inspections.
Wakefield was rated as ‘requires improvement’ under the previous inspection framework in 2016 and was not due to be re-inspected until 2019. The June inspection was prompted by a two-day focused visit by Ofsted in February.
The report said: “Since the last Ofsted inspection in 2016, senior leaders across the council and partnership have not effected the improvements necessary to remove serious weaknesses or counter a decline in service quality.”
Beate Wagner joined Wakefield as director of children’s services in February. The Ofsted report states she was in the process of recruiting a new management team and the council has committed further resources.
Inspectors found an improvement plan is being implemented but is ”is not based on a systematic evaluation of the current service weaknesses, or on a full understanding of the experiences of children”.
Wakefield chief executive Merran McRae welcomed the commissioner’s appointment. She said: “Our priority is to ensure that services are brought up to the standard our children and families need and deserve and we are determined to deliver this.
“Changes are already underway to strengthen our services. We’re recruiting more family support and social workers to make sure help is available to children, young people and families who need it.
“We have already strengthened the senior team and continue to recruit to key positions, both on the management team and frontline.”