COUNCILLORS have criticised a culture of lying, delay, and misdirection in Herefordshire's children's services department.

Their comments came during an extraordinary meeting called after the publication of a damning judgement which found there had been "egregious and long-standing failures" in the county's children's services provision.

Mr Justice Keehan questioned whether the council’s children’s services were fit for purpose after failures spanning more than eight years were found in the department's handling of four children who went into foster care in 2012.


Councillors at the meeting – which was called to receive the judgement and vote on recommendations including the establishment of an improvement board, the commission of external reviews, and the appointment of a Department for Education advisor to act as chair of the improvement board – said they had been obstructed from properly scrutinising the children's directorate because they were not told the truth by officers.

Scrutiny chair councillor Carole Gandy said she had been alarmed by the "appalling failures" the judgement had presented and hit out at the "often evasive" and untruthful culture within the department.

"Ultimately if you ask questions and are not given true answers, then you have nowhere to go," she said.

And her views were backed by Coun Jennie Hewitt, who said proper scrutiny had been prevented by officers failing to act in a timely manner, using general data protection regulations as a smoke screen to avoid uncomfortable questions, not responding to emails, closing down public questions by labelling them as defamatory, and frequently adopting a threatening and obstructive stance.

"Their actions have obstructed the work of scrutiny and sought to protect the work of the directorate," she said.

"I have found them to have their own best interests at heart when there is a problem. The best interests of children have not been the driving factor in their decisions."


Councillors also pointed out there had been long-standing problems in the children's services department, which was told it must improve by Ofsted in 2018.

Coun Terry James said he had been warning of problems within the department for the last ten years, but had been met with blank stares whenever he raised issues.

"I have been with families who have been under the cosh of children's services and I have been appalled at the ethos that exists within some social workers in children's services," he told the full council meeting.

"I attended one pre-birth adoption meeting and was disgusted that there was no compassion for the families involved. There are some wonderful social workers who do incredible work, but not all of them."


The council has since recruited interim children's services director Cath Knowles who, the council heard, is working to carry out a "root and branch" overhaul of the department, while some of those involved in the failures are no longer employed by the council.

The council is also being supported in working to improve services by the Local Government Association and the Department for Education.

Councillors voted unanimously in favour of the recommendations while amendments calling for the establishment of independent exit interviews for staff and to urgently commission a clear action plan were also passed.