Ex-child care chief: ‘I acted with integrity’
Man whose department was criticised speaks
THE former head of the city’s children’s services said he acted with “great integrity” during a period when the department was “not functioning” and the safety of children was put at risk.
With Peterborough City Council’s much-criticised children’s services department once more in the spotlight after failings were highlighted in the case of tragic five-year-old Tyler Whelan, the man in charge of children’s social care at the time of the tot’s death in March 2011 has spoken out for the first time since his resignation.
John Richards stepped down from his post in September 2011, after a damning Ofsted inspection report found children’s services were failing in seven out of nine safeguarding categories, failing to improve in the 18 months after a similarly inadequate report in March 2010.
At the time of his resignation, the cabinet member for children’s services, Cllr Sheila Scott, said the council’s Safeguarding and Children in Care Project Management Board was given a “rosier version of what was really happening”, with Mr Richards accepting responsibility for failing to disclose issues to the board.
But when asked whether he misled the council, Mr Richards - who referred to himself as a “charismatic leader”, said: “I am not at liberty to talk about the events for legal reasons, but I would say I acted with great integrity.
“What I agreed with the chief executive (Gillian Beasley) at the time was that there needed to be a different approach to getting this department right.
“I agreed we needed a paradigm shift to a team-led approach and as a result I was going to step aside.
“We did have a team before, but if you have a service that is not properly functioning, which it was not, then my view is that having a charismatic leader is not enough, and what you need is a different approach.”
A serious case review that was conducted by the Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board in the aftermath of Tyler’s death found that there were two occasions where more action could have been taken by children’s services to learn more about his circumstances.
Elvis Lee, the partner of Tyler’s mum Stephanie Whelan, was on Tuesday jailed for life for the murder of the tot. The youngster’s mother is currently awaiting sentence after being found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a child.
The council’s children’s services was slammed by Ofsted in March 2010 and six members of staff were sacked after management failures led to a huge backlog in social care referrals.
All the improvements required by Ofsted were not made and in September 2011 Mr Richards resigned after Ofsted criticised poor assessments of vulnerable children, poor record-keeping and inadequate management.
Cllr Scott initially suggested that members of the safeguarding board were not given the full picture by Mr Richards while the department was failing.
But in a surprise turnaround yesterday, and apparently at odds with the statements published at the time of Mr Richards’s resignation, Cllr Scott has said it was officers and not Mr Richards who may have been at fault.
She added that Mr Richards had acted with great integrity “since he left”.
She said: “I think John Richards was reporting to us what he believed to be the truth.
“I don’t think it was misinformation being reported to us, it was just overly optimistic. But John Richards was ultimately responsible, as I too was ultimately responsible, as I don’t think the data available was of the highest quality.
“I think it was the fault of the officers and this was not necessarily Mr Richards’ fault, though he clearly took responsibility.
“I still have a responsibility to John Richards. He has behaved with great integrity since he left, he has not said anything for all these months.
“I was also ultimately responsible at the time but as I’ve said before I feel I can be part of the solution and now those systems are being put in place and now I am becoming increasingly confident about the information as it is published now.”
integrity: John Richards, the former head of Peterborough City Council’s children’s services.