Social work bosses 'merry-go-round' puts children at greater risk

One in three authorities has lost its director of children's services in the past year. Paul Gallagher considers the impact of this rapid turnover

Vulnerable children are being put at further risk because of a "management merry-go-round" at councils across England that has seen one in three director of children's services (DCS) leave their job in the past year.

The role has been compared to that of a Premier League football manager, with directors ruthlessly removed if they do not get speedy results. Of the 152 DCSs at local authorities, 52 left their position between July last year and July 2013. Nine more have left since then.

Thirteen authorities have had four directors in the past five years, including Birmingham, Doncaster and Haringey – all heavily criticised for inadequate child protection. The IoS revealed last week that Haringey's Local Safeguarding Children Board has launched yet another serious case review after a toddler was taken into care and a couple charged with child abuse.

Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), said yesterday that he was "concerned" about the instability, and warned that the £2.7bn in funding cuts has put "phenomenal pressure" on directors. "Twin hatters", responsible for both children and adult services, can now be found at 58 councils that have merged departments in recent years.

Mr Webb, a "twin hatter" as director of people at Stockport Council, said the high turnover was attributed to a combination of directors moving from authority to authority, restructuring, and retirement.

"The pressures being created due to rapidly reducing budgets across authorities – funding streams have been cut by 30 per cent – are phenomenal. The role of DCS is a complex one. You start working with a range of direct employees as well as partner agencies such as police, schools and others. An enormous amount of work is built up through trust, and that turnover puts relationships under great stress. On top of that, the skills you need as DCS are acquired over time."

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, said: "Too much leadership volatility in social care is counter-productive – that goes without saying. One in three local authorities has had a change in their director of children's services last year alone. The combination of unstable communities and political and managerial instability in our social care services is a dangerous mix."

The number of children in England on the at-risk register has jumped from 29,200 in 2008 to almost 45,000 today. Mr Webb said it was important to remember that the number of child murders has fallen 30 per cent since 1981 "from a small number to an even smaller number" and that, of the 45,000 children deemed at risk, "most of the plans last less than two years and most of them involve successful completion".

The Children's Act 2004 introduced the role of DCS, which combines responsibility for education and children's services at councils. It became a statutory post in 2007. Before then, some authorities had separate heads for the two services, while some combined the responsibilities. Many believe combining the role was a mistake as it enabled people to become director of children's services with solely an education background, some of whom have found the high-profile job too much. Only 25 authorities have had the same DCS since 2008.

Haringey Liberal Democrat councillor Rachel Allison, a member of its corporate parenting committee, believes the high turnover is also due to "a lack of accountability".

She said: "It is a Russian roulette mentality: how long can you hang around for before the bullet hits you? The merging of the roles in education and children's services in 2007 was a mistake because it meant you did not need any sort of background in social services to get the job. It is a massive responsibility to look after both areas and the workload is enormous and I just don't know how you can do it effectively. To reduce turnover and reintroduce stability you have to hive off the two areas again and return to the pre-2007 era of roles and responsibilities."

Ms Allison also observed that the "ludicrous" turnover is not only at DCS level. She points to the high turnover of council chief executives and former DCSs in charge of children's safeguarding boards as further problems that need addressing. "It is a management merry-go-round that has to stop," she added.

Peter Lewis, who replaced Sharon Shoesmith at Haringey after the Baby P scandal became public, is currently interim director at Somerset. According to his LinkedIn profile, Mr Lewis works for a company called StubbsStorey Ltd, providing interim DCS services to "a local authority".

Labour's Shadow Children's minister Steve McCabe said last night: "There are too many reorganisations by incoming directors and senior staff who barely stay five minutes. Local authorities need to have a concerted commitment to create some stability.

"They also need to put much more effort into strengthening the skills and capacity of front-line managers who are supposed to support the staff who are dealing with parents and children. In too many authorities, these people are so fragile and insecure themselves that they cannot offer the support and supervision required.

"The level of cuts being imposed on local authorities is making the situation 10 times worse. It is extremely hard to try and encourage stability and retain staff in a cuts-driven environment."

Clash of the directors

Sharon Shoesmith, who reportedly won more than £600,000 compensation after being controversially sacked as director of children's services (DCS) at Haringey in November 2008 following the death of Baby Peter, describes the role as "close to impossible". She warned that nobody should become a DCS until they are in their mid-fifties. "I'd probably say don't become a DCS until you are 55 and don't stay more than two or three years. Go into it with an agreement right from the start that if a child dies, you'll walk but you'll get your pension," she told Children & Young People Now magazine last month.

"You look at politicians who for one reason or other have had to resign and they come back. It's the role they resign from," she was reported as saying. "But when you're a DCS, it's personal. You suddenly have no past worthy of mention and no future. It's almost as if you are tainted as a murderer."

Peter Lewis, her replacement at Haringey, responded in a letter to the magazine last week. "I was gobsmacked by that level of bitter cynicism," he said. "The cynical view of the world expounded by that former DCS is not mine, nor that of most of the DCSs I know. It is a cynicism that helps no one: not serving DCSs, aspiring DCSs, the children's workforce at large – and definitely not the children we serve. It is a privilege to do what we do. Like most of the colleagues I work with, we do it for the children and not ourselves."

Paul Gallagher

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sustainability Manager

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

    Graduate Sustainability Professional

    Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

    Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

    £850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

    Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

    £100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn