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Saturday, 20 September 2014

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Cumbria council's children's services department 'aims low and misses'

The repeated failures of Cumbria’s children’s services are an “injustice” to young people in the county.

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Caught: Prof John Ashton regrets his choice of language

That’s the damning view of Professor John Ashton, the county’s former director of public health, as he spoke with delegates at an annual children’s health conference yesterday.

He said he was concerned that the county’s children’s services department “aims low and misses” and “doesn’t do justice by the children in the county”.

Cumbria County Council, which controls children’s services in the county, also suffers from “a very strong sense of complacency and an unwillingness to explore, hear or strive to be excellent” according to Prof Ashton, who is currently president of the Faculty of Public Health.

His comments are the latest condemnation of children’s services after the county council was criticised last week for giving Julia Morrison, the director in charge when it was twice condemned as inadequate, £87,000 when she left. This was in addition to her £125,000 a year salary and pension benefits. The department is also subject to ongoing criticism for repeated Ofsted inspection failures.

Speaking at the conference held at Carlisle Racecourse, Prof Ashton, who left his post last year, said: “What I found was that there was an unwillingness to accept challenges from myself in the way it worked. It was abdicating responsibility.

“They never learned their lessons and were never willing to be self-reflective and accept criticism.”

He continued: “The attitude in this county towards opening this debate up is that it is not willing to listen. We had serious case review after serious case review, but there was an attitude that they didn’t want to put that in the public domain. They wanted to keep quiet about them.

“There are too many layers of bureaucracy in Cumbria. The responsibility is not pushed down low enough, the front line is not empowered and there’s an intimidation on the front line.”

Speaking after the conference, a spokesman for the county council told the News & Star: “Prof Ashton was Cumbria’s director of public health and his views are always treated with respect. The independent chair of the Cumbria Safeguarding Improvement Board has reported, however, that Cumbria Children’s Services is moving in the right direction and that significant progress is now being achieved.

“The council is committed to sustaining these improvements and will continue to work to ensure positive outcomes for all children and young people across the county.”

He added: “From a public health perspective the council has made it clear that its aim is to put public health firmly at the centre of everything that it does.”

Dr Neela Shabde, clinical director children and families at the Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) organised yesterday’s conference.

She said: “Only by working together can we deliver the quality and standard of service we want and expect for our children and young people. A key partner in this is the new director of public health, Colin Cox who has a real commitment to children’s and young people’s care.”

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