No children at risk in Northamptonshire, says newly appointed children's commissioner

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Recent Ofsted inspection 'shows progress is being made' but concerns were raised about set-up of new children's trust

The newly-appointed children’s commissioner for Northamptonshire says no children are currently at risk in the county.

Andrew Christie was hired by the government in October 2019 to become the new commissioner following the resignation of Malcolm Newsam. He will be helped by his new deputy Clare Chamberlain.

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The duo appeared before councillors for the first time last week, and said that a recent Ofsted visit had shown progress was being made. They did, however, raise concerns that the set up of a new children’s trust for the county had been ‘slower than expected’.

Children's commissioner, Andrew ChristieChildren's commissioner, Andrew Christie
Children's commissioner, Andrew Christie | other

In a report read by councillors before the Q&A last Thursday (February 20), Mr Christie wrote: “The county council has appointed a new leadership team. The team is new and inexperienced at working at senior level in children’s services, but is dealing with the issues with great energy.

“The unallocated cases are currently at zero and the leadership team has increased workforce capacity and improved staff morale. In their recent visit to inspect duty and assessment services, Ofsted confirmed this analysis and stated that during their inspection they found no children at risk in Northamptonshire.”

Zero unallocated cases where children did not have a social worker marks considerable progress for an authority that had 267 during the official Ofsted inspection in 2018. The report found that social workers ‘were drowning in work’.

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An October 2019 letter to the government from lead commissioner Tony McCardle and finance commissioner Brian Roberts said the county’s children's services was ’one of the worst-performing yet most expensive in the country’.

Northamptonshire County CouncilNorthamptonshire County Council
Northamptonshire County Council | jpimedia

The task then to turn it around is a mammoth one, but will soon be the responsibility of a new children’s trust that is being established. Although the county council is being abolished and split into two new unitary authorities, children’s services will remain as one in the county with the new trust.

Asked by councillors for examples where a children’s trust had turned services around, Mr Christie pointed to Doncaster, where services went from ‘inadequate’ in 2012, with a trust being established in 2014 and then receiving a ‘good’ rating in 2017.

But Mr Christie had some concerns about the proposed timescale for the new trust, which as things stand is set to go live in July ahead of the creation of the two new councils next spring.

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He wrote: “Progress of the Trust set-up had been slower than originally expected and some key milestones have been missed.

“We have concerns that a July deadline will not provide enough time for the necessary actions to have happened for the safe and effective set-up of the Trust.

“By the end of March we will be in a position to take a firm decision about the go-live date.”

He added that should a July date prove unattainable then there would ‘not be room for much further slippage’ as it takes a minimum of 12 months for a ‘safe’ set-up.