Work­ing to keep kids safe

A re­cruit­ment drive is one of the key steps Bucks County Coun­cil’s chil­dren’s ser­vices is tak­ing to step out of the red. The di­rec­tor of the port­fo­lio talks to LAURA MOWAT about how much progress has been made since it failed its OF­STED in Au­gust 2014.

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THE di­rec­tor of chil­dren’s ser­vices, David John­ston, took up the post of safe­guard­ing vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren in Bucks in De­cem­ber 2014.

The coun­cil was named and shamed as one of the worst seven author­i­ties for chil­dren’s ser­vices in the coun­try and branded ‘in­ad­e­quate’ last Au­gust.

“It has been a very busy job, we have spent the whole of 2015 mak­ing sure that we have re­cruited enough so­cial work staff and other sup­port staff,” said Mr John­ston.

“We have ap­pointed the ma­jor­ity of our se­nior man­agers in that time and we now have an al­most full se­nior man­age­ment team. We do have a num­ber of agency work­ers, but they are be­ing re­placed by per­ma­nent so­cial work­ers from time to time. A sta­ble work­force will al­ways pro­duce a bet­ter qual­ity of work.” There is a na­tional short­age of so­cial work­ers, which is more acute in the South East – Mr John­ston links this to ex­pen­sive hous­ing in the area as well as be­ing less of an ap­peal­ing au­thor­ity as it was deemed in­ad­e­quate.

The to­tal num­ber of chil­dren’s so­cial worker posts is 209 and nine peo­ple from Ro­ma­nia have been re­cruited.

The over­all chil­dren’s so­cial care bud­get is £57.5m and the forecast spend on staffing in the cur­rent year is £23m.

Just over a year ago, there were 13 peo­ple in the county coun­cil’s First Re­sponse Team and now there are 31. Mr John­ston said: “That is in or­der to meet the need, to make sure that we do good qual­ity assess­ments and to make sure that we have ca­pac­ity when de­mand in­creases some weeks.

“Hav­ing the right work­force in place is a key is­sue for us. We want to make sure that what we are do­ing is qual­ity, that it is trans­par­ent and that we are pri­ori­tis­ing things ap­pro­pri­ately.”

The OF­STED re­port in 2014 crit­i­cised the chil­dren’s ser­vices for ‘wide­spread and se­ri­ous’ fail­ings in the way it safe­guards vul­ner­a­ble young peo­ple. Since then, an im­prove­ment board has been set up, which feeds in­for­ma­tion back to the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion ev­ery few months. It is chaired by a for­mer chief in­spec­tor for OF­STED and coun­cil rep­re­sen­ta­tives also sit on it, along with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the po­lice and NHS clin­i­cal com­mis­sion­ers.

When asked whether chil­dren are as safe in Bucks as else­where, Mr John­ston said: “I think that we have put an enor­mous amount of work in the front­line. The coun­cil has in­vested heav­ily in this area and we have re­cruited so­cial work­ers and man­agers as quickly as we can.

“You can never say, in any au­thor­ity, that ev­ery child is safe at ev­ery mo­ment. It is un­for­tu­nate, but it is hu­man na­ture. We are op­er­at­ing at a much more ro­bust stan­dard than we were back in 2014.”

Last week, six men were sen­tenced for Child Sex­ual Ex­ploita­tion in Ayles­bury. Mr Johns said: “The more we see per­pe­tra­tors con­victed, the more courage vic­tims have to come for­ward. Some­times they don’t see them­selves as vic­tims or they have been ca­joled into not say­ing any­thing. We want peo­ple com­ing for­ward to con­tinue.”

The di­rec­tor is keen for peo­ple to know that the coun­cil does want to hear from any child who is suf­fer­ing. “If peo­ple talk to us then we will lis­ten,” he said. You can call the First Re­sponse Team on 0845 4600001, or 01296 383962. Out of hours – Emer­gency Duty Team –

David John­ston 0800 9997677. Se­cure email: se­cure­cyp­firstre­sponse@ buckscc.gcsx.gov.uk.

DI­REC­TOR:

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