Incoming director of Norfolk County Council’s troubled children’s services department promises ‘relentless focus’ on improvement

Sara Tough. Photo: Norfolk County Council

Sara Tough. Photo: Norfolk County Council - Credit: Norfolk County Council

The incoming director of Norfolk County Council's troubled children's services has promised a 'relentless focus' on improving the department.

Sara Tough, who currently holds the same position at Dorset County Council, will take over from interim director Matt Dunkley at the end of October.

A social worker by profession, she has 32 years of experience in the sector and has held a number of senior roles over the past 10 years.

In her new role at Norfolk County Council, she will be tasked with improving the department, which has been rated inadequate twice by Ofsted.

She said: 'I am delighted to be joining Norfolk County Council at this time – I have been inspired by the ambition of the council and its determination to get stronger.

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'I want to share the great work already happening and to celebrate the successes. I will bring a relentless focus on outcomes, strong core services and partnership working, so that we continue to improve and make a difference for children and young people in Norfolk.'

Under her leadership at Dorset County Council, the children's services department was found to require 18 areas of improvement following an inspection by Ofsted last year.

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And in January 2017, the watchdog uncovered 'significant weaknesses' in Dorset's services for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said it was aware of the Ofsted reports for Dorset. But added: 'If you look at the Ofsted report for 2016, it talks about how the director has plans for the future, but needed time to embed them.

'It proves her ability to map out problems and solve them.'

Wendy Thomson, the county council's managing director, said: 'I'm delighted that we have recruited Sara. She is a first-class children's services director, with an impressive track record, who will take forward the improvements that are well underway in Norfolk.

'Our ambition is to move up in the Ofsted rating from 'inadequate' to 'requires improvement' at the next inspection, which is expected later this year or early next year.'

She thanked Mr Dunkley for his 'excellent work' over the six months as interim director. Mr Dunkley replaced interim director Andrew Bunyan in February.

Some of the challenges facing children's services in Norfolk

A recent monitoring report into Norfolk County Council's children's services department highlighted that improvements had been made.

But Ofsted inspectors said that the service was still not consistently good enough.

There are a number of challenges the department will face over the coming year to change that, including:

• There was an £8.5m overspend in children's services in 2016/17

• Latest figures show a drop in the percentage of children in need with up to date plans (down from 87.7pc to 81.9pc)

• The number of looked after children (currently 1,089) remains above target

• Concern over percentage of assessments of children referred to the service being completed within targeted timescales

• Concern over the number of young children placed in residential units.

• The percentage of schools in Norfolk judged outstanding (14pc) is below the national average of 21pc

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