Move comes after investigation found serious management shortcomings and follows Star Hobson case
Bradford council has been stripped of control of its children’s social care after an investigation following the murder of 16-month-old Star Hobson found serious shortcomings in the management of the service.
Social workers will be transferred to a not-for-profit children’s trust that ministers hope will help “drive rapid improvements” to a department which has been underperforming for years and struggled to raise its game.
Star was beaten to death by her mother’s girlfriend in September 2020 after months of abuse. Despite several warnings from family and friends and five visits to the family home by social workers and police officers, no appropriate safeguarding action was taken.
Savannah Brockhill, 28, of Bradford, was jailed in December for at least 25 years for the murder of Star, while her mother, Frankie Smith, 18, received eight years for causing or allowing the death of a child.
A local safeguarding-practice review into the lessons of why more was not done to safeguard Star – originally expected this month – has now been wrapped into a wider national review looking also at the murder of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes in Solihull. This is now due to report in May.
Ministers decided to transfer Bradford’s social care services to an arms-length trust on Tuesday after publishing a three-month review of the department’s management and governance carried out by Bradford’s government-appointed commissioner, Steve Walker.
The executive summary of the report published by the Department for Education (DfE) suggests Walker did not look specifically at shortcomings relating to the Star Hobson case, but more broadly at longstanding management and governance issues within Bradford children’s services.
Walker found that attempts to improve the services after it was rated inadequate by Ofsted inspectors in October 2018 had been sluggish and unconvincing, undermined by inexperienced management and acute shortages of permanent social workers.
An overhaul of the department had been launched in 2019 but this failed, with the plan criticised by Walker for its complexity and focus on management process rather than safeguarding practice. He concluded it lacked capability to improve services speedily enough and recommended an “alternative delivery model” be introduced.
The decision of the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, to create a children’s trust in Bradford is the eighth time a failing children’s social services department has gone down this route since 2010. In some cases, trust status has led to improved services, such as in Sunderland, but it has struggled to make an impact elsewhere, as in Northamptonshire and Sandwell.
Zahawi said: “It’s clear from the recommendations made by the commissioner in Bradford that the council needs support to improve and so I’m pleased that Bradford council have agreed to establish a new trust that will bring positive change for the council and independent oversight that drives improvements.”
However, Ray Jones, emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University, said setting up a trust meant that for two years management energy would be directed into creating the new body rather than addressing safeguarding-practice issues. “The trust model is not a quick fix, and may not be a fix at all,” he said.
The DfE said an independent non-executive commissioner will be appointed to lead the council while the children’s trust is set up. The trust will be fully owned by the council but will operate independently under a new board of directors.