Ongoing failings by managers, councillors and outside agencies have all impacted on vulnerable children in Herefordshire, a long-awaited report by a Government-appointed inspector into has found.

Herefordshire Council is to retain control of its children's services department, but could still lose this unless it now shows rapid improvement, according to the report by children's commissioner Eleanor Brazil, finally published at lunchtime on Wednesday March 1, which pulls few punches.

Progress since the department’s various poor inspection results, government interventions and court cases has so far been “very slow, with little impact on outcomes for children”, she writes, saying it had been poor for more than 10 years.

The current head of children’s services Darryl Freeman inherited a management team in 2021 who “did not address the serious issues of management grip, communication and improving morale”, her report says.

Over half of front-line social workers are still agency staff, many “allowed to work mainly from home, a long way from the county”, and children experiencing a “deeply worrying” succession of different social workers.


She also highlights the role of “inexperienced” councillors, a cabinet that “lack confidence and experience in knowing how to fix the department”, and a children’s scrutiny committee, also made up of elected members, that “needs strengthening”.

She said councillors also gave “disproportionate attention to longstanding individual cases” raised by parents, which “with my help are now slowly being resolved”.

Police, health workers and schools meanwhile “have not proactively worked with the council to effect much-needed change”.

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Late last year while she was investigating the department, she found “some early signs that reduced caseloads, better management oversight and increased supervision were resulting in some positive practice”.

Nevertheless she concluded that Herefordshire Council “doesn’t have the capacity to improve the service in a reasonable timeframe by itself” and must continue to work with Government appointees, the Local Government Association (LGA) and well-rated local authorities to bring about necessary change.

The option of “moving management to another organisation… would take considerable time and resources to establish and would have impact on services”, she said.

Instead she has given the council just three months to show a range of improvements, including more permanent and fewer agency social workers and managers, more face-to-face meeting with families, and fewer changes in social workers dealing with individual children.

The council leader, cabinet member for children and scrutiny committee members, all elected councillors, must also work with the LGA “to develop their knowledge and impact”.

Her report was completed by early January, and has since been awaiting approval by Minister for children and families Claire Coutinho, who has now agreed her recommendations, Mrs Brazil explained.

“I will return to do a follow-up in six months’ time, during which time the council will remain in ‘intervention’,” she said. “We may then need to revisit the alternative delivery model.”

Council chief executive Paul Walker said: “There has been an acknowledgement of progress, which we will build on, driving delivery at faster pace, on recruitment, case load management and family conferences.

“We have a grip on this, but still have some way to go.”

Head of children’s services Darryl Freeman said: “It has been a robust and helpful experience. There is now a whole-council approach to solving these problems, which remain the council’s number-one priority.”

Council leader Coun David Hitchiner said: “I welcome the report’s clear targets, which we now have to achieve.”

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