Council’s chief executive says children are not being put at risk

Merran McRae.
Merran McRae.

Wakefield Council’s chief executive Merran McRae said she would “sympathise” with those concerned about our district’s children after reading the report, but denied that the council were putting youngsters at risk.

She said: “I want to reassure people not to be worried.

“We will meet these challenges.”

She admitted it is “a challenge to safeguard children with our current issues” but she said the council wasn’t “so bad” that a Baby P-like tragedy could happen.

Ms McRae said: “Children in Wakefield are safe.”

And she added that Ofsted would “instantly come in and intervene” if it felt otherwise.

Ms McRae who joined Wakefield Council in June last year, blamed “widespread austerity” for increasing demand on children’s services, saying there were more instances of neglect and families struggling.

She said: “What we haven’t been good at is flexing the service to respond to that demand. It is now overwhelmed and working practice has not kept up.”

She said £1m had now been allocated to implement an action plan of improvements and a further £3.5m had been invested into the children’s services annual budget.

A new corporate director for children and young people Beate Wagner has also been appointed and the council said it was working with North Yorkshire County Council and Leeds City Council to learn from “best practice”.

Ms McRae said there had already been action to address concerns since 2016 but admitted pace had been lacking and acknowledged there should not be unallocated case loads.

She said recruiting social workers had been difficult, and the ratio of newly-qualified to experienced staff had “not been ideal”.

She put some of the delays around decision making down to lack of confidence of staff and promised to focus on training and recruiting more experienced workers.

And she said the authority would also work closely with partners including the police, community agencies and health services and would focus on early intervention.

Ms McRae said: “I am confident now that we have flushed out a lot of problems and have identified a sense of optimism and willingness to change among staff.”

She said Ofsted recognised that some positives steps had been taken and believed the authority would be given time for the impact of these to start to show before a further inspection.