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New ‘children’s services commissioner’ for Rotherham

A children’s social care commissioner has been appointed for Rotherham MBC by the education secretary, after a warning that there is a “widespread and serious failure in the council’s ability to help and protect children and young people” from Ofsted.

Malcolm Newsam, a former director of children’s services who has worked with Haringey LBC and Doncaster MBC to improve services, has been appointed as the commissioner.

Ofsted is inspecting Rotherham’s council services, but even though it has not finished that process, Sir Michael Wilshaw has already sent a letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan MP to alert her immediately about his “deep concerns” regarding weaknesses in key areas.

Sir Michael’s letter, sent on 30 September, identified a lack of clear leadership and accountability for children’s services since the departure of Joyce Thacker, who was pressured to step down in the wake of the Jay Report, which found 1,400 children were abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

The letter states that since Thacker left “no clear arrangements have been put in place by the local authority to identify who is leading and accountable for children’s services”.

Sir Michael also warns that inspectors have found “serious weakness” in basic child protection practice and oversight.  He states that social work practice does not comply with statutory guidance and that inspectors have found evidence of “poor management oversight of practice, poor performance management arrangements and a lack of effective quality assurance”.

The letter says: “In a number of instances, the quality of practice and case recording seen by inspectors was so poor that the cases were referred back to the local authority because children were judged to be at risk of, or suffering harm.”

The Ofsted chief also identifies the Local Safeguarding Children Board as not complying with statutory guidance on safeguarding children from sexual exploitation.

On 7 October Nicky Morgan wrote to the leader of Rotherham council to inform him of the appointment of the Malcolm Newsam as commissioner. In her letter she states “my immediate priority is to ensure the safety of children in Rotherham”, and directs Rotherham MBC to provide full cooperation to Newsam, who has been “appointed to urgently investigate and address the failings identified by Sir Michael and recommend immediate next steps”.

A separate Channel 4 News investigation last night found that in the first six months of this year, 3,009 children across the UK were referred to social services, or known to them already, as being at risk of exploitation. That six-month figure is almost as much as the previous 12 months, where social services were aware of 3,202 children at risk.

The areas with the most children at risk in the last 18 months include Manchester with 452, Derbyshire with 407, Sheffield with 363 and 311 in Blackburn and Darwen.

(Image: c. Lynne Cameron, PA Wire)

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