‘Still a very long way to go’ to improve West Sussex children’s services

Councillors have been told that people were ‘deluded’ if they thought the problems with children services in West Sussex could be solved quickly.

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In 2019, a damning Ofsted report saw the services rated ‘inadequate’, with commissioner John Coughlan saying the  council ‘did not have the capacity or capability’ to improve them.

Since then, an immense amount of work has been carried out, as the entire service – along with education and early help – is prepared to be placed in the hands of an independent trust.

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In September, Jacquie Russell, cabinet member for children and young people, said the team was ‘beginning to feel what good looks like’, but warned there was still a lot of work to be done.

She doubled down on that warning during a scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday (November 5), when asked about the length of time some of the improvements were taking.

Mrs Russell said: “We are making progress but there is still a very, very long way to go.  We’re on a low base and that is as a result of years of systemic failure.

“It’s been going on for a long time.

“If anybody thinks this is going to turn around in a year or 18 months then they are completely deluded and devoid of the knowledge in the herculean task we have as a county council to turn this ship around.”

Ofsted paid a return visit to the council in October and a report is scheduled to be published in December.

While unable to share any details before the report was published, transformation officer Vince Clark did not sugar-coat the potential outcome – though he was not expecting any ‘nasty surprises’.

Mr Clark said the council had given Ofsted a ‘warts and all’ self-evaluation, which inspectors agreed with, and acknowledged there was still ‘a long way to go’.

One of the issues raised in the 2019 report was child safety.

When asked by Kirsty Lord (Lib Dem, Hassocks & Burgess Hill South) how confident the team was that children were ‘as safe as they can be’, Mr Clark acknowledged: “There are still levels of risk in the service that we’re not happy with and we need to resolve.”

While that may not paint the prettiest of pictures, Ms Russell lauded the work of Lucy Butler, executive director of children, young people and learning, and her team, saying they had laid ‘some really critical foundation blocks’.

As for the Trust itself, it is expected to become operational from October 1 2021 and will initially run for five years.