Director of under-fire Northants children's service goes on sick leave

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The director of children’s service at Northamptonshire County Council has gone on long term sick leave.

Walter McCulloch, who took over the role in June, has recently been signed off from work duties and will be replaced by Sharon Muldoon who has been part of the senior management team within children’s services.

The news comes as the council’s service was rocked yesterday (Nov 14) by a damning Ofsted report that severely criticised the way the service was being managed, with 267 children without a social workers and social workers ‘drowning’ in case work.

A spokesman for the authority said this morning: “Walter is on long-term sick leave. Sharon Muldoon is acting up into the role.”

After he stepped up to director role this summer following his predecessor Lesley Hagger’s departure, Mr McCulloch was highly praised by the cabinet member for children’s services Cllr Victoria Perry who commended his social work background and his understanding of the issues.

The state of the children’s department at NCC is so dire that yesterday it was announced that the secretary of state for education is ‘‘minded’ to send in a third commissioner to the council to oversee the children’s department.

The person likely to fill that role is Malcolm Newsam who was part of the commissioner team sent into Rotherham Council in 2014 following the child sex abuse scandal.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting yesterday leader Matt Golby, who was the cabinet member for children’s service during much of the two-year time period criticised by Ofsted, said he was ‘upset and disappointed’ by the Ofsted report and that he had been told that ‘the department was moving forward.”

He fought off calls to resign at the meeting and still has the backing of his fellow Conservatives.

NCC’s children’s services department had been underperforming for several years after being rated as inadequate in 2013.

It has been using a number of agency staff to fill vacant social worker roles but 82 of the 172 agency social workers recruited last year have already left the authority.

It has also been spending huge sums on the children’s department at a time when it is the poorest council in the country.

Leader of the opposition Cllr Bob Scott said: “The Ofsted report drags us back two years or more. NCC spent well very £80m extra over four years just to get from inadequate to requiring improvement and that was by the skin of their teeth. Now we hear that in January over 500 cases were unallocated to social workers. This has been now reduced to between 200-300 but remains. Inspectors found that there was no evidence of risks being identified, managed or robustly reviewed – poor resources and poor senior management has left children at potential risk of harm.”