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.
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.