A NEW interim director is among those drafted in to help turn around Herefordshire's failing children's services department after a raft of failings were exposed in a damning judgement.

Councillors hit out at a culture of lies, delays, and misdirection which prevented proper scrutiny of the department, while staff were said to be too frightened to speak out against poor practice at an extraordinary meeting called to receive the judgement and vote on a series of improvement measures on April 27.

But, councillors were told, action is being taken, with new interim director Cath Knowles drafted in to turn the department around under new chief executive Paul Walker, while the Department for Education has appointed improvement advisor Gladys Rhodes White.

Who is Cath Knowles?

Qualified social worker Cath Knowles has taken up the position of interim director following Mr Justice Keehan's judgement on Herefordshire children's services.

"We are very fortunate to have recruited Cath Knowles as interim director of children's services," council leader David Hitchener said.


"She is a qualified social worker, and I believe it is something that we must learn, that we must be very careful about appointing anyone as the head of children's services who does not have such experience."

Ms Knowles has previously been drafted in to help other children's services departments including Dudley.

"Cath has experience of turning around failing social services, " Coun Hitchener said.

"She has done it before, and her reputation is such that she has the confidence of the various government bodies already involved."

Ms Knowles has promised to deliver improvements including a children's participation offer, giving children a chance to air their views on children's services to the scrutiny committee.

She has appointed a chief social worker from an 'outstanding' children's services department and said she has been holding staff briefings and is encouraging staff to engage with her.


Who is Gladys Rhodes White?

The Secretary of State appointed improvement adviser, Gladys Rhodes White, is also a qualified social worker with experience of working with children's services departments including Medway, Blackburn, Bradford, and Rochdale councils.

She will work with the council for a minimum of 12 months, and until such time that the Secretary of State is satisfied this is no longer required.

Her role will include providing advice and guidance to the council.

Herefordshire Council said Mrs White is an outstanding leader with substantial expertise and skills in transforming and improving services and outcomes for children and families.

Who is Paul Walker?

Described as a "hands on" chief executive by Coun Hitchener, incoming chief executive Paul Walker has an extensive background in working in local government.


Coun Hitchiner said: “Paul has five years’ experience as chief executive at Copeland Borough Council in the Lake District.

“It’s an area of the country very similar to ours so there will be some familiarity there.

“I have no concern that Paul will grasp quickly the issues we face as a rural county and will fit in with our communities.

“Paul left Copeland in 2015 on the election of a mayor and carried out some consultancy work and in 2017 took a role as corporate director in Harrow.”

Mr Walker told the full council meeting he would ensure no stone was left unturned in the overhaul of children's services.