A CRISIS in social care has hit Coventry.
More than 600 children have been forced into care while nearly 5,000 cases remain open.
And when murdered schoolboy Daniel Pelka slipped through the net in March 2012, a huge spotlight was placed on the council to find faults and make key changes.
Last month its children’s service got its third boss in little over a year as it struggles to make the improvements needed to ensure no repeat of the tragic case.
The Observer’s Matthew Bates caught up with new man Coun Ed Ruane to hear what, if anything, will change.
GETTING tough on failure may be the best way to guarantee improvements in social care, a new boss has said.
Coun Ed Ruane is the man tasked with turning around the council’s failing children’s services department, and he has only been in the job a few weeks but has already discovered faults within the care system.
He revealed shock at the response of bosses during a meeting of a key improvement board – set up after Ofsted handed down an inadequate rating earlier this year.
Coun Ruane told the Observer: “What was telling to me is that the council is great at providing performance indicators, but when I put the same question to all the other agencies around the table – police, health etc – the response I got back was ‘well, you never asked for it’.
“I thought what are they doing here? These are senior directors.
“It’s not that the council is against others because it certainly isn’t but there needs to be closer partnership working.”
Coun Ruane said he would take inspiration from Labour colleague David Kershaw, who has been credited with turning around the city’s failing schools – also criticised in recent years by Ofsted.
Just 42 per cent of children attended a good or outstanding school when the former Coundon Court head teacher stepped in but that figure is now over 70 per cent.
“He has gone out to those schools and asked how they are performing.
“If there’s no progress then they’re challenged or put on a monitoring plan.
“It’s no coincidence that in the two years where results have jumped there’s also been a jump in the number of head teachers who have been moved on. Over 20 in my recollection.”
He would not comment on whether similar changes would be made within his department but one director on an £80,000 salary has already moved on.
Top director Brian Walsh – paid around £130,000 – is still at the helm.
And Coun Ruane added: “The Ofsted report said one of the failures was management and leadership.
“If you don’t look to address that then what are you going to do?
“There are good things going on in the organisation but if it was that good why were we rated inadequate? And why didn’t we challenge Ofsted on the results?”
Among the biggest problems are huge caseloads of social workers.
Bosses spent £1.34million on agency staff between January and March – an increase of more than £500,000 on the previous quarter – in a bid to plug the gap.
An extra £5.6m was also committed to the service in the wake of Ofsted’s visit while more funding could be secured in the coming months.
“Spending money on anything else is tinkering around the edges,” he said.
“Some people on the frontline have told me they’ve seen no change on the ground.
“They need to see their caseload drop significantly so they’re able to put more quality into cases.”
Among the options being considered by leaders is a ‘golden handshake’ – similar to that offered to teachers in the past – with social workers given cash in return for staying in Coventry for the long haul.
Other priorities include improving data sharing by setting up a safeguarding hub for staff from six agencies to work in the same location. It is set to launch at Christchurch House in September.
Adoption rates also need to be improved with Coun Ruane revealing the process had taken years to complete for some people.
Plans are now in place for an independent mock inspection later this year ahead of an expected Ofsted return in January.
“Everyone has the same goal,” Coun Ruane said.
“But we need that pace of change because for an organisation of this size it can sometimes feel like turning an oil tanker around.
“They’re our kids from Coventry and just because they haven’t had the greatest start in life do we just walk on by? To say that’s not my responsibility?
“We’ve all got to step up to the plate because this is a scar against Coventry and Daniel Pelka is a classic example of asking why certain agencies didn’t do more.
“The idea that minutes weren’t even recorded in meetings or partner agencies weren’t even turning up for them. It’s basic stuff that wasn’t done.
“So if it means people have to be monitored to make sure they’re doing what they should be doing, then so be it.”