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Thursday, 28 August 2014

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Children's services boss in Cumbria 'unlikely' to return

THE future of children’s services in Cumbria looks uncertain after insiders claimed the head of the department ‘unlikely’ to return from sick leave.

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Ex-boss: Julia Morrison

Officials at the authority have confirmed that Julia Morrison has been absent from work for more than two months “for health-related reasons” and insiders claim that she is unlikely to return.

Ms Morrison has presided over one of the most troubled periods in the recent history of the county’s child protection services.

Pressure on children’s services continued to grow yesterday as it emerged that Ofsted inspectors are now to re-examine its child protection service in March.

The watchdog has told the authority it needs to “speed up” its efforts to improve, councillors were told.

In June last year, Ofsted rated the child protection service “inadequate” after revealing how children were left at risk.

An inspection in 2012 also identified serious weaknesses in the department’s work to protect the county’s most vulnerable children.

The most recent “inadequate” rating for child protection services prompted calls for Ms Morrison to step down – though her “leadership” has been praised by inspectors.

A county council spokesman said: “Julia Morrison is an employee of Cumbria County Council. We will not comment on speculation.”

The authority said that Ms Morrison was currently off work due to health-related reasons, adding that an interim arrangement would see John Macilwraith, who is assistant director, acting as corporate director of children’s services.

Ms Morrison was appointed in May 2010.

After the negative Ofsted report in June last year, she said that the authority responded immediately to the concerns raised.

Inspectors aimed a barrage of criticism at child protection services, saying that “significant numbers of children” required immediate action because of a swift failure to take necessary action.

The union’s Cumbria branch secretary Deborah Hamilton declined to comment on speculation about Ms Morrison’s future but said that she had been concerned about her absence from work.

She said: “We know that an email has been sent to employees saying she is absent from work but we have had concerns about children’s services following the critical Ofsted inspections and there is clearly a need for strong leadership.

“However, as things stand, with Ms Morrison absent from work, that department has no permanent leadership. That can’t be good for children’s services.”

At a meeting of Cumbria County Council yesterday, Anne Burns, the council’s lead member for children’s services, said improvements had already been made.

She said: “We are on the right track but we do need to speed up the number of changes we are making – we are not going fast enough.”

Councillors were told that the appointment of a new chairman of the local safeguarding board was nearing a conclusion. Interviews are due at the end of January.

She added that child protection inquiries had improved. The latest figures, she said, showed 98 per cent of child protection visits were now carried out on time and more than 98 per cent of children were receiving statutory visits.

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