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Rotherham Council hit the national headlines over its failings to deal with child sexual exploitation (CSE). Fundamental flaws were identified across the council, but in particular in children’s services, which was deemed failing by Ofsted. Government Commissioners were brought in to run the council and powers were stripped from the then leadership.

That was two years ago. Since then there has been a wholesale change of management and now they have their sights firmly set on becoming an outstanding borough by 2018. We talk to the man instrumental to the delivery of these changes – Strategic Director of Children’s Services (DCS), Ian Thomas. 

What has it been like working for Rotherham? 

Since my appointment on 4 January 2015, I have been impressed by the commitment of council officers and our partners in their efficacious response following the publication of the Jay, Casey and Ofsted reports. Our resolve has been bolstered by the appointment of our new Chief Executive, who has made becoming a ‘child-centred borough’ one of her priorities. 

What do you bring to your role? 

According to Ofsted, the leadership and governance in Rotherham was not strong enough in challenging poor practice and there was a lack of clear structured vision. I had already developed a service rated as good by Ofsted in Derbyshire, where performance management and a learning culture deliver good outcomes for children. In my view, this is what Rotherham needed.

I wanted to do things differently for Rotherham’s children and families. This has included a single point of contact for co-ordinated early help and social care, which has already resulted in the stepping down of casework. We have streamlined how our social workers operate to ensure more manageable caseloads. Also, management are now based in locality teams, which has increased their visibility and brought services together. 

What is the biggest issue you are facing as a service? 

There isn’t one issue, but a number of fundamental issues. We need to recruit more experienced social workers to meet the needs of our children. We also need to recruit more adopters and increase the number of foster carers for children aged over 13.

These same issues are faced by other local authorities, but the CSE scandal presents us with a number of challenges, and consequently, opportunities. We need people to understand the changes we have and are still making and to come and work for us at this pivotal time.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Securing convictions against six individuals, who were sentenced to a total of 102 years for CSE, demonstrates that we take this sort of crime seriously. We invested time in supporting our 21 witnesses to see the trial through. Words cannot describe the bravery and fortitude of these women, who had to relive the horrors of the past. 

It is the combined efforts of Evolve, which brings together police, council and health services all under one roof to tackle CSE, and our newly-formed Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) that supports victims and survivors through the daunting process.

What improvements have been made in the last year? 

There have been significant improvements; however we recognise there is still further work to do to achieve an outstanding Children and Young People’s Service (CYPS) by 2018. We have eradicated the assessment backlog with no assessments open over 45 days.  Regularly, above 98% of Child Protection Plans are up-to-date and 94% of Initial Child Protection Conferences are held within 15 working days.

To read more about what you can expect if you join the team at Rotherham, what it is like living in Rotherham and how to apply, turn to page 12 in the latest issue of Sanctuary Social Work News

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