‘Serious and widespread failures’ were found at the six-bedroom Seaside Home for Children in Shoreham by inspectors in the summer of 2018 and after a follow-up inspection months later found not enough had been done to address the issues raised it was shut down.
The problems at the homes foreshadowed wider issues at County Hall, with children’s services rated inadequate by Ofsted in May 2019.
Late last year a commissioner appointed by the Government recommended taking services from WSCC and setting up an independent trust to run them instead.
The county council has been working on a children first improvement plan.
Jacquie Russell, cabinet member for children and young people, gave a verbal update on the work on Friday (February 14) as inspectors had carried out the first of focused quarterly monitoring visits back in December.
She said: “They clearly recognised our staffing is becoming more stable, case loads are reducing and morale is improving. We have strengthened our services in some key respects and children are receiving better services than they were 12 months ago.”
She added: “We are getting more things right more of the time which is hugely encouraging but it’s only the start of what we intend to achieve in 2020.”
Mrs Russell described how the improvements were a ‘testament to our hard-working staff’, but acknowledged there was still a ‘long way to go on this journey’.
With John Readman, interim director of children’s services departing for Cumbria, Ann Marie Dodds is filling in until Lucy Butler joins the authority as executive director of children, young people and learning in May.
Lib Dem Kirsty Lord felt it was important with the changes in senior management the council ‘did not lose momentum’.
Meanwhile James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group, described being ‘horrified’ at reports that children from West Sussex were being placed as far away as North Yorkshire.
In response Mrs Russell said children were sometimes placed far away from West Sussex due to safety reasons, but the council is working to refurbish homes previously closed, listing Cissbury Lodge, May House and Seaside.
This would happen towards the end of 2020 and into early 2021.
Conservative David Edwards said: “We are clearly now moving in the right direction.”