Council responds to the findings of an independent report

Today a report has been published by an independent ‘Families Commission’ following meetings with families that have previous and current experience of Herefordshire Children’s Services.

The panel was commissioned jointly by the Children’s Commissioner, Eleanor Brazil; the Herefordshire Safeguarding Children Partnership; and Herefordshire Council, and comprised of three appropriately qualified and experienced professionals, independent of Herefordshire. 

The Families Commission report can be viewed on the Herefordshire Safeguarding Partnership website.

Darryl Freeman, Director of Children’s Services:

“I want to thank all the families for coming forward and sharing their experiences with the panel. I know that this must have been a very difficult and emotional experience and want them to know how deeply grateful I am.

“I also want to thank the panel for the sensitive, professional way they have gone about their work and for their detailed and thorough report.

“This report is a hard read. I am truly sorry for the failings it details and apologise to all the families for what they have been through.

“Our mission now, as part of our improvement journey, is to continue to learn from the mistakes of the past.

“We are building a new culture and different way of working in the service. We will now look at each of the seven questions raised by the report carefully and honestly and explore with families how we can better work with them and meet their needs.

“We share a common goal with all the families who have come forward – and with the whole of Herefordshire. We want to build a children’s service of which the whole county can be proud. Our families deserve nothing less.”

Councillor Ivan Powell, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People:

“This is a challenging and difficult report for everyone connected with Herefordshire Council. For too long our children’s services have failed the very people who need them most. Some of those failings are laid out in stark detail in this report.

“I am grateful to all the families for coming forward and hope that the work of the commission has helped them to feel heard and to start to recover from their experiences. Their stories must not – and will not – go unheard.

“As the newly-appointed cabinet member for children’s services I am committed to ensuring that every aspect of children’s services learns from what each of the families has told the panel.

“We must use this report and the families’ lived experience to ensure that the voice of children and families is central to our improvement plan and the future of the service in the long term.”

More Information:

Herefordshire’s children’s services have been publicly criticised in recent years. The recent Ofsted Inspection also highlighted concerns about the effectiveness of the safeguarding partnership.

In 2018 a High Court judge published his judgement relating to the inappropriate use of Section 20 for children in long term care in Herefordshire, and in March 2021 the same judge published a highly critical judgement relating to very poor practice regarding a sibling group of four. More recently, in April 2022, the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme, which covered the negative experience of five families who had been receiving social work intervention in Herefordshire.

One of the mothers featured in the Panorama programme, set up a group called A Common Bond. She was and is supported by one Councillor in particular and the local M.P. In October she organised a public meeting for families to present their stories to councillors (about 12 attended this meeting) and myself as Children’s Commissioner. About 15 families had prepared statements which they presented.

There were some common themes: unsympathetic social workers, lack of knowledge or response to children’s special needs, children removed at short notice and wider family not considered. 

Several of those who presented their story had come to an extraordinary council meeting held a few weeks previously to debate children’s services, and have continued to ask questions at subsequent Council meetings.

Managing ‘legacy’ cases is challenging given the numbers involved, the high profile following the Panorama programme, the historic poor decision-making and the frequent changes in social workers. 

The publicity following the recent inspection has further increased lack of confidence in the Council and the Safeguarding Partnership. 

A small number of parents continue to take opportunities to publicly raise their concerns at council meetings and through emails and complaints to the local M.P.s and Councillors.

Given this background and context the Council, with the Children’s Commissioner and the safeguarding partners, have considered what more can be done to try to resolve issues for families, to restore confidence and to learn from what has happened. The proposal to establish a Commission is intended to do this.

Full Report –