Children’s Services : The ‘Real’ Reality Check

In the light of information we had received about Wirral Council’s Children’s Services we thought we’d do a bit of further research which included reluctantly checking out the John Brace footage of Children’s and Families Overview Committee held on January 25th .

We admit we couldn’t get past ‘Part One’  – but it was enough to introduce us to the new Director of Children Paul Boyce (forgive us but his title is giving us flashbacks to ‘The Childcatcher ‘ character in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’). Wirral Leaks readers will remember that Boyce was appointed back in October 2017 following the long overdue departure of the previous Director Julia Hassall. For further information read here :  Old Boyce Network

So what was our first impression of Boycie? Well, put it this way – as far as we’re concerned it’s never good when you can’t remember the original question asked by a councillor after Boyce has answered it .The repeated use of the terms ‘ improvement journey ‘ and ‘narrative’ didn’t help. So in answer to your question we thought the BS quotient was particularly high , even for a Director of Wirral Council .

Needless to say the councillors present appeared to be soothed and reassured . Laughably (and tragically) Cllr Moira ‘Matron’ McLaughlin thanked Boycie for his ‘realistic’ presentation. Because as we know Matron spent many years being duped by incompetent,dishonest Directors in the Department of Adult Social Services (DASS) and thus allowed vulnerable people to be abused over a prolonged period of time .

In the understatement of the year so far Boycie admitted there was ” a bit of work to do” and ” we’ve got a way to go” in Children’s Services . There was some ‘tough talk’ about not wanting social workers who don’t know what good practice looks like to work for Wirral Council anymore .

Whilst Boycie reminded councillors of the reality visits they would be undertaking to check the claims that Children’s Services was heading in the right direction on their ‘improvement journey’ and that there was ‘depth to the rhetoric’ ( see what we mean about the BS quotient?) can we ask him whether Sandra Dykstra is what ‘good social work looks like’ ?  (see below)

Misconduct

Therefore we challenge Wirral councillors to consider the ultimate Children’s Services reality check. In answer to the simple question “Why are there so many looked after children in Wirral”  this is the response they won’t get on their carefully managed visits. Simply because the quality of management in Children’s Services is – and always has been – appalling and your much lauded new agency recruits are motivated simply by money and we guarantee will be out the door when it all gets a bit messy. And believe us – it will.

Reality Check 1

Reality Check 2

Old Boyce Network

Paul Boyce LinkedIn

The day after our update on children’s services A Reality Check For Children’s Services  which followed a meeting of the Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee , Wirral Council issued a press release to announce the appointment of Paul Boyce as the new director of children’s services rather than do so at the aforementioned meeting.

Welcoming the news of Mr Boyce’s appointment, Cllr Bernie Mooney, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Paul is an excellent appointment.We said we wanted an outstanding candidate and that is exactly what we have.

Everywhere he has worked he has driven major improvements…….

Getting someone of Paul’s calibre – he has a national reputation as a leader in this field – to come to Wirral and help us improve even further is a real coup for us.

I know he will hit the ground running and very quickly deliver the excellent children’s services we all want for our young people and families.”

As you can read in full HERE Boyce Appointment  the Wirral Council press release reveals that Paul Boyce is the current executive director for children at Knowsley Council . It also states that :

“he led improvement in children’s services at Knowsley, Cheshire West and Chester and Halton councils improving the services and Ofsted rating in each area cementing his position as one of the most sought after leaders in the UK within children’s services”.

Needless to say our curious readers wanted to know more about the appointment and the claims made about Boyce.  Consequently it has been discovered that Boyce left Halton Council in 2009  for Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) and acquired the responsibility for a wide range of children’s services from July 2009 to September 2011. As you can see here CW&C Ofsted Ofsted judged the services as inadequate in 2010 under 9 categories including safeguarding children. Subsequently from September 2011 to March 2013  Boyce moved into a new post of Head of Strategy and Commissioning  whilst the overall responsibility for children’s services was transferred to Gerald Meehan (now CWaC CEO ) and Sandra Campbell who were brought in to oversee the Ofsted improvement plan which followed the inadequate judgement. Mr Boyce left CWaC when that post was removed under a reorganisation in March 2013 with a rumoured six figure redundancy payment.

The following month Boyce was appointed as interim director of children’s and adult services in Knowsley and at a later date he was permanently appointed to the post. Lucky for some , eh?

https://uk.linkedin.com/in/paul-boyce-97130257

April 2014 Ofsted judged the overall effectiveness of Knowsley’s children who need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers as inadequate  – this after Mr Boyce had been in post for exactly a year. Whilst a subsequent Ofsted inspection published earlier this year identified that there had been significant improvements in children’s services and they were no longer rated inadequate, the report identified that improvements were still required in some key areas , specifically , children who need help and protection and children looked after and achieving permanence Knowsley Ofsted

It remains to be seen whether future improvements in Wirral’s children’s services bear testimony to the stellar reputation that Paul Boyce is claiming for himself and repeated by Wirral councillors desperate for someone to remedy the current inadequate status of children’s services. But then with things as they currently stand the only way is up for a highflyer like Mr Boyce.

A Reality Check For Children’s Services

Brazil September.jpg

As you can see from the above report in the latest edition of Private Eye , children’s services troubleshooting troubadour and serial cheque collector Eleanor Brazil has now rocked up in Croydon.

Of course we remember Ms Brazil as the woman who bailed out of Wirral earlier in the year ,raising her hands in the air , like she just don’t care and claiming to be ‘shocked and appalled’ by the ‘shoddy’ treatment of  Julia Hassall ,Wirral Council’s chosen scapegoat for a series of failures in Children’s Services. Unfortunately Ms Brazil failed to enlighten us further on what she meant by ‘significant corporate issues’ which she felt were hindering progress on the ‘improvement journey’  (groan).

Portrait of A Gobshite

So we’ll fill in the blanks – Children’s Services still leave a lot to be desired and those controlling the show won’t face up to reality. This is evidenced by a couple of  council meetings held this week . Firstly at the Audit & Management Risk Committee Wirral Council ‘s external auditors Grant Thornton presented their annual findings and noted the risk to Wirral Council in the Executive Summary of the report.

In September 2016 the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and
Skills (Ofsted) issued its report on the inspection of the Council’s services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers. The overall judgement was that children’s services were rated as inadequate. The inspection found widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children who need help and protection.
We recognise that the Council has made progress to improve Children’s services and the Improvement plan actions are designed to achieve the required service
improvements. However, recent Ofsted monitoring visits confirm that progress in
some areas has not yet met expectations and the Council acknowledge that it will take some time to implement all the actions that should deliver the required service improvement.

Grant Thornton Audit Findings

Subsequently there were gallant attempts from new Director of Children’s Services, Deborah Gornik, and her Deputy, Simone White , to steady the sinking ship at last night’s Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Whilst they hinted that Ofsted may be pleased with progress in some areas it is clear there are still some choppy waters to navigate on the ‘improvement journey’. Incidentally, we understand that Ms White is a poacher turned gamekeeper turned poacher as a former employee of both Wirral Council and Ofsted and now second in command back at Wirral Council.

But Deborah and Simone should fear not ! – help is at hand as councillors have agreed to undertake a series of ‘Reality Check’ visits to enable them to engage directly with frontline staff in Children’s Services. Hurrah !  – it’s just a shame the arrangement isn’t reciprocal and frontline staff  get to ‘reality check’ councillors and find out whether their failure to properly scrutinize Children’s Services, being forever in denial, turning a visually impaired eye to problems and being more concerned about reputation management than the safeguarding of children contributed to frontline staff having OFSTED inspectors crawling all over them. Could this be the ‘significant corporate issues’ to which Ms Brazil referred to?

Talking of a reality check we note that we’re still awaiting the publication of the Serious Case Review report concerned with the Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) case that we commented on earlier this year . As we reported in our  Basket Case Review article :

I suppose we have to wait for the publication of the Serious Case Review in the summer before we can FULLY judge the failings of Wirral Council and other statutory agencies involved in the appalling Rajenthiram brother’s depraved exploitation of our most vulnerable.

A quick look out of the window will tells us that summer has long since passed – so where are the findings of the Serious Case Review ? However we do note there was an exempt item at last night’s Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee – could the Serious Case Review report have been discussed then? Or is that a reality check too far for now?