TAMESIDE Council’s under-fire children’s services department is set for major changes once again, with three chiefs thought to have stood down.
Director Alison Stathers-Tracey and assistants Tony Decrop and Paula Sumner are believed to have left the authority at the end of August.
The Correspondent understands Allison Parkinson, Alison Montgomery and Vicky Lawson have already agreed to step in.
Last July, Tameside Council was hit with an improvement notice by the Department of Education, which stated: “Should the council be unwilling or unable to comply, or should ministers not be satisfied with the council’s progress at any stage, ministers may choose to invoke their statutory powers of intervention to direct the council to enter into an appropriate arrangement to secure the improvements required in children’s services.”
And another Ofsted inspection is set to come in the coming weeks after a focused visit to that department in April last year led to damning findings.
In its report, inspectors said: “During the previous focused visit, in May 2021, council leaders agreed to provide immediate additional investment to address a lack of capacity across several parts of the service which was causing delay for children in having risks identified and their needs met.
“However, this has not been implemented at pace. Since that time, the local authority has continued to experience capacity issues across all levels of the service, and the response to some children at immediate risk of harm has deteriorated.
“Too many children experience delay in having their needs for help and protection promptly assessed and met.
“There is a systemic delay in the convening of strategy discussions, which means that risk for most children is not promptly considered in a multi-agency forum, leaving children in circumstances of unassessed risk for too long.
“The local authority’s self-assessment of the front door does not demonstrate sufficient insight into the areas requiring improvement and the service improvement plan is not focused on the right areas to improve outcomes for children.”
The response of ‘political, corporate and operational leaders’ to changes in the system was also highlighted.
Politically, Cllr Bill Fairfoull remains Tameside Council’s executive member for children and families after this report and a damning Ofsted and Care Quality Assessment of its SEND provision.
The latest report into children’s services, published in June 2022, adds: “Despite these recent changes, political, corporate and operational leaders do not know their services and the impact for children well enough.
“A recently refreshed self-assessment of the front door services demonstrates what has changed in this area of service and the main challenges.
“However, before this visit, leaders were not fully aware of the extent and impact of repeated contacts about children, the systemic delay in convening multi-agency strategy meetings and in allocating a social worker to assess risks and needs in a timely way.”
And under the tag ‘areas for priority action,’ it is said: “Political and corporate leaders’ understanding of the strengths and areas for improvement and for this to be underpinned by a well-informed self-assessment and improvement plan that will drive and monitor practice improvement effectively.”
Tameside Council’s chief executive, Sandra Stewart is believed to have made the new appointments to the children’s services hierarchy, with at least two on an interim basis for a minimum of a year.
However in an email, seen by The Correspondent, she states: “I realise all these changes may be bewildering, and unsettling, however, I am keen to create a stable and safe learning environment.
“I am sure you will agree with me, our job is to focus on the immediate concerns of ensuring we have each individually met our statutory and corporate responsibilities to protect and safeguard children and supporting children and families to achieve their best is the council’s number one priority.”
However, the way they were brought in is thought to have raised councillors’ eyebrows.
A Tameside Council Spokesperson said: “The Council has been on an improvement journey for a number of years and is working hard to ensure we safeguard children and support children and families to achieve their best. An enormous amount of work has gone in to turning the service around since the last inspection in May 2019 when our Children’s services were rated ‘requires improvement to be good’. Tameside was the first local authority in Greater Manchester to successfully launch Family Hubs; Social Care caseloads have reduced; Early Help cases are increasing; the number of children in care is safely reducing and we have improved partnership working.
“However, that said we have some of the highest levels of children in care in the country for the size of the population, twice the number of children of neighbouring councils, reflecting the fact that our communities face significant changes, which in turn creates significant demand for the Council and its partners to address.
“We are currently preparing for an imminent Ofsted inspection and in consideration of this, the Director of Children’s Services, and two Assistant Directors have decided that they have taken us as far as they can on our improvement journey and wished to move on to allow the Council to appoint a new leadership team. We thank them for their contribution and wish them all the best and every success in their new endeavours.
“Given these roles are crucial for the Council, considerable efforts have been made to ensure that we have continuity and stability of leadership for the service by prioritising a proper and swift appointment process. We are therefore pleased to have been able to secure a new Director of Children’s Services, an Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care and an Assistant Director of Quality and Improvement. This will ensure Children’s Services have the necessary leadership and direction in place to prepare for our imminent Ofsted inspection and their wealth of experience and success in other authorities will help provide a clear focus for our continued improvement journey. These appointments have been fully shared with Ofsted”