Somerset Children’s Services Goes From Bad to Worse

For some time now, I have been concerned about the management of Children’s Services in Somerset. The services we provide to children are some of the most important areas of responsibility for the County Council and it is worrying how poorly the service is performing. Since election in 2009, the Conservative administration has presided over a steady slide in performance from good to inadequate, where it remains. In that time, the County Council has parted company with 2 chief executives as well as Directors of Children’s Services at the rate of about 1 per year. Around a quarter of all Somerset’s social workers are temporary agency staff. In order to try and turn the situation around, the Council appointed, in April 2013, an interim Director costing the Council, over £400,000 per year, pro-rata. Peter Lewis was heralded as the saviour of the service but despite his appointment, the Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson, was so concerned that in November 2013 he issued an improvement notice, requiring that the Council drag up its performance in this area.

Following a slew of further inadequate ratings* this autumn, Mr Timpson is clearly not impressed by the rate of improvement and has summoned the Leader of the Council to a meeting in Whitehall. Regrettably, the Council issued a press release in response, describing the meeting as ‘perfectly routine’ and ‘entirely expected’. Such complacency gives little comfort that the current leadership even recognises the gravity of the situation, let alone has the capabilities to resolve the problems in the service. Unbelievably, the Cabinet Member for Children at Somerset County Council launched an astonishing rant at members of the public and opposition councillors, blaming their (legitimate) questions about Mr Lewis’s astronomical cost for his ‘slipping performance’. You can watch it here. Again, such a flawed assessment gives no confidence at all that those in charge are capable of improving the service. In October 2014, the County Council terminated its contract with the fabulously-remunerated Peter Lewis. The Council says it sacked him. Mr Lewis says he resigned.

Last month it was revealed that a Somerset County Council staff member had had sex with a 16-year-old resident. It just gets worse.

The Leader of the Council and the Conservative prospective MP for Taunton Deane, Rebecca Pow have both expressed confidence in the political and officer leadership in Children’s Services. This is yet more complacency and begs the question “If it’s not a question of personnel, what is the problem?” Is it finance? Children’s Services is already £2.7m overspent this year. If money is the problem, let’s not forget that the Leader and his Cabinet are equally responsible for the budget as they are for personnel. Either way, the buck stops with Frances Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Children and the Leader, John Osman, who incidentally was the previous Cabinet Member for Children. It is hard to fathom what else needs to go wrong before they accept that they are not up to their jobs and step down.

*Taunton Children’s Centres were found by OFSTED to be Inadequate
South Somerset Children’s Centres were found by OFSTED to be Inadequate
Somerset Children’s Services were found by OFSTED to be Inadequate
Two Somerset Children’s Homes were found by OFSTED to be Inadequate

This entry was posted in Children's Services, Somerset County Council, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Somerset Children’s Services Goes From Bad to Worse

  1. I guess the immense overspend explains why our fight for additional respite to help us care for our terminally ill six year old is so tough. And the number of agency staff explains why the social worker who came to our house most recently appeared to have absolutely no concept about the issues surrounding caring for a sick child. Or, indeed, knowledge of legislation in support of carers. And the lack of staff probably explains why they haven’t answered either of my emails asking for clarification of their reasons for turning down our request for more help. Although they did manage to get their act together enough to write back to Jeremy Browne to tell him that we just need to pull ourselves together and spend more time with our kids, rather than be given more respite to do luxury things like sleep. All the cash goes to the staff highest up the food chain and very little of it filters down to families and children on the front line who desperately need it.

  2. Joe Burns says:

    I am shocked that you don’t mention a far more important issue Mike, the death of 4 year old Jonas Stadden and subsequent coverup by Peter Lewis and others. Surely the death of a child under suspicious circumstances deserves a mention?

    Lewis blatantly lied on BBC Radio Somerset on the 21 January 2014 and I defy anyone to state otherwise. I have made this statement several times in local media and have not been challenged or served with a gagging order in respect to the fact that I make the claim he lied.

    Your local Police Constabulary also conspired to cover up the death of Jonas and completed a shocking “Investigation” even before the Post Mortem was released, Lewis also knew the police investigation was complete before the post mortem as he stated as much in a press release and on the radio.

    There are investigations going on in the background that are beyond the capability of the locals to suppress or control. Jonas’s death was the result of neglect by an “inadequate” social services who purported to protect him, even the Coroners report and correspondence proves this.

    The death of Jonas had a great deal to do with Lewis’s departure and the timing of the departure of the Police Chief is highly suspicious given the timing of the complaint against Police over Jonas’s case by the IPCC. But the death of Jonas Stadden is in reality the tip of the iceberg………

    I don’t envy you sir, you have your work cut out for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *