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Monday, 22 December 2014

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Suspended boss gets new job with Cumbria council

A children's services boss who was suspended after her department in the West Midlands was labelled “inadequate” has been given a new job working with vulnerable children in Cumbria.

Helen Smith photo
Helen Smith

Cumbria County Council has defended its decision to put Helen Smith in charge of its children in care services.

Ms Smith resigned as director of Children’s Services at Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council last year, a month after she was suspended following a negative Ofsted assessment of the authority’s child protection services.

The watchdog had concluded that the council was failing its most vulnerable children, leaving some at “significant risk of harm”.

At the time, council officials pointed out that her suspension was a “neutral act”.

Ms Smith, who worked for the West Midlands authority for almost two years, landed her new job in Cumbria as the county council itself continues to battle to turn child protection services around.

Last June Ofsted rated the county’s child protection service “inadequate” after revealing how children were left at risk – though officials say improvements are now filtering through.

The department’s current director has been away from work on leave for the past three months.

Senior managers and councillors at the county council were yesterday keen to defend Ms Smith, pointing out that she had previously worked in Cumbria and is highly respected for her work here.

Carlisle MP John Stevenson said he was “astonished” the county council had appointed Ms Smith given the circumstances.

But John Macilwraith, acting director for children’s services, said: “Helen Smith is an established professional with significant skill and experience, much of it in Cumbria.

“The council was fully aware of her background at Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and this was discussed with her during interview. In addition, as is normal practice, the council sought and received employment references which reinforced our positive opinion of her.

“Since her appointment in June last year she has been successfully leading the council’s work around children in care and is now an important part of the management team.

“We have every confidence that she will continue to be an excellent appointment.”

Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young also heaped praise on Ms Smith.

He said: “We were sorry when Helen left Cumbria, but she was leaving for a promotion.

“We were fully aware of the background and we were fully satisfied with what we know that she is professionally sound: we were glad to get her back because she’s good at what she does and she knows Cumbria.

“I don’t know totally what was going on at Sandwell Council but clearly it had problems before she got there.

“Cumbria has had two negative Ofsteds against us but that doesn’t mean that everything that happens here is terrible. We are addressing the problems but there is also good practice in Cumbria.”

Fellow councillor Anne Burns, responsible for children’s services at the county council, added: “Helen is doing an excellent job and she has the confidence of all the children she’s working with.”

The absent children’s services director, Julia Morrison remains away from work for “health-related reasons” and insiders have claimed that she is unlikely to return.

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