Herefordshire’s head of children’s services Darryl Freeman has been the focus of much attention since taking control of the troubled department at the start of last year. Last summer it was officially rated as inadequate, leading to direct Government intervention to help turn it around.

This may be starting to pay off, according to a report published this week of the latest Ofsted monitoring visit, which found the service “is starting to improve”, though its quality “remains variable”.


We put some of the points that Ofsted’s inspectors made to Mr Freeman.

Recruitment and retention of staff is slowly moving in the right direction as Ofsted has pointed out, and we now have a workforce that's more stable and with more internal progression,” he said.

“Our offer is broadly competitive with our neighbours’ and we'll announce an enhanced offer next month. But nationally there aren’t enough social workers out there.”

The department “is already seeing some benefits” from its partnership with Leeds City Council, he said.

“They have been through this journey themselves so have much to share. Leeds did an impressive piece of work on building meaningful relationships with families which we can learn from.”

Ofsted also identified the council’s delays in re-housing families in need.

“For a small number of families, where poor or overcrowded accommodation is impacting on children's development, the council has struggled to find alternative housing,” Mr Freeman admitted.

“But often what Ofsted identified applies only to one or two families, they are not widespread issues.”

A related concern which Ofsted flagged up is the treatment of underage, unaccompanied asylum seekers in the county.

“Again it’s a small number, though it has increased this last year,” he said. “There can be a delay between the initial approach and finding appropriate housing.”

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“It's a complex problem,” he explained. “If they say the 16 or 17 they shouldn't be left in an adult environment, but likewise if they are an adult they can't be put with children, who need to be safeguarded. Assessing their true age, which requires experts, can add to delay.”

As to what happens next on the department’s improvement journey, Mr Freeman said: “We expect the children's commissioner Eleanor Brazil’s final report next month, though she will still hold our feet to the fire for another year or possibly longer.

“The government statutory notice will stay in place until we are reinspected in a couple of years’ time. Ofsted's monitoring visits will continue in the meantime.”