The new interim boss of Devon’s failing children’s services admits there is an ‘enormous amount to do’.
Julian Wooster was speaking at his first cabinet meeting after starting his temporary role last week, replacing previous director Melissa Caslake who recently left after just over 18 months.
Mr Wooster retired from the same job at Somerset County Council in October. During his seven years in the job, the Ofsted rating for Somerset’s children’s services rose from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ in its most recent inspection in July.
Leaders at County Hall will hope he brings about a similar level of improvement in Devon, with the government warning in December that it was ‘extremely concerned’ about the service’s performance.
Devon’s MPs were told before Christmas that the county’s children’s services are now considered to be the ‘third or fourth worst in the country’ and, unless there are signs of improvement, they could be taken into special measures.
This does not apply to Plymouth and Torbay councils, which both run their own children’s services.
Council leader John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh & Wembury) said in December that the council is ‘taking this very seriously,’ while a spokesperson added that ‘improving our support for children in Devon is our main priority.’
Speaking at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Mr Wooster said: ‘There’s an enormous amount to do and there’s a massive programme we need to do across children’s services – both in relation to social care and SEND [special educational needs and disabilities] as well.
‘So, support from yourselves as cabinet and also from other executive members and senior leadership team is critical in terms of making that progress.’
Cabinet member for children’s services, Councillor Andrew Leadbetter (Conservative, Wearside & Topsham) thanked Mr Wooster for taking on the job and said he’s looking forward to working with him.
Labour group leader Carol Whitton (St David’s and Haven Banks) also welcomed Mr Wooster, adding: ‘I do appreciate your opening remarks and that clear recognition that there is a huge challenge to get that whole area of the council to work and under control financially.’