Shadow cast on arrival of Isle’s new children’s boss

THE woman brought in to safeguard Island children was for ten years the boss of a social services department heavily criticised in a report issued just months after she left.

Deborah Cameron was director of social services at Newham until 2000, where she worked with Dave Burbage, Newham’s former chief executive and now Isle of Wight Council interim finance director.

She has been appointed Isle of Wight Council interim assistant director of children and young people (safeguarding).

Around the time she took early retirement from Newham, to care for her two adopted children, now aged 18 and 20, the authority was reviewed by the Audit Commission and Social Services Inspectorate.

It published its report in January 2001 and the social services department went into special measures the following month, for two years.

The review found serious shortfalls in children’s services, with risks to children not promptly identified or managed. It found longstanding weaknesses in disabled children’s services and more than 500 children, including 13 per cent of looked-after children, without allocated social workers.

Low morale, high staff turnover and weaknesses in financial management und-ermined progress.

It praised strategic planning and a high commitment to change but that was coupled with serious weaknesses in core services, inconsistent management of social work cases and some unsafe practices.

Ms Cameron, who still lives in Newham and will be based on the Island three days a week, said many problems faced by the borough at the time were due to huge numbers of asylum seekers. Services were swamped with work and she likened the area to the wild west.

She admitted she had not read the full report but had seen large sections and, at the time, informally recommended Mr Burbage to appeal against it.

She said the report was wrong about Newham’s prospects for improvement, which was borne out by its quick two-year turnaround from special measures.

She said other reports had praised the service and that during her tenure they had never been criticised over a child’s death.

Isle of Wight chief executive Steve Beynon said: “Given the urgency of the appointment and the need to find the best person for this important role, I undertook a review of the available suitably qualified staff and Deborah matched all our requirements.

“The appointment went through the due processes relevant to the post and Dave Burbage also provided an excellent reference, having worked with her in the past.”