The director of children’s services in Sandwell has been suspended, it was revealed today.
Helen Smith has been temporarily stood down from her role as service director for children and families ahead of the publication of what is expected to be a critical report into the department.
Confirming the news today, Sandwell Council chief executive Jan Britton said: “A director of the council has been suspended.
“Suspension is a neutral act which does not imply wrongdoing. We cannot make any further comment at this stage.”
In 2009 an investigation was launched and social workers suspended after Ofsted judged Sandwell as “inadequate”.
Ministers issued an improvement notice and an improvement plan was drawn up. In 2010 the department again received a poor rating.
A new management structure was installed to turn around the department, with Helen Smith taking up her role as service director for children and families in May 2011.
She had previously worked as an assistant director in Cumbria, where she led the social care and special educational needs services for more than fours years and it had been understood the service was improving. The authority was rated as adequate in February last year following an inspection that took place in January.
Former children’s services director Barbara Peacock had pulled the department up to an adequate Ofsted rating but she left the authority in October last year.
Private firm iMPOWER was later awarded a £1.15 million contract to help run the department.
Councillor Bob Badham, the council’s cabinet member for children and families, was today unable to comment and the future of his position is unclear, in light of Helen Smith’s suspension.
Yesterday it emerged that Sandwell Council would be shaking up its children’s services department as part of a cost-cutting exercise. Around 1,000 workers are relocating under plans to streamline operations, which will save more than £2 million a year. The authority needs to make savings of £100m by 2017.
Today’s suspension comes months after a damning Ofsted report in Walsall led to a shake-up of children’s services. A new boss was brought in and the council leader apologised for the authority’s shortcomings. Improvements are now being worked on.
An improvement notice was served on Walsall Council by the Government after Ofsted branded the local authority’s safeguarding services as inadequate.