Parents to protest over departure of children's services director

Parents to protest over departure of children's services director

Published by Maria Greenwood at 7:20am 10th December 2019.

Parents will protest outside a Dorset Council meeting this morning (10th December) calling for the return of children’s services director Sarah Parker.

Ms Parker spent her last day with the authority on Friday after an announcement which said she would be leaving at the end of December – after 11 months in the job.

Her departure comes at the end of a consultation about proposed changes to children’s services which should come into effect in the New Year.

Dorset Council

Dorset Council says its regrets her departure and also said that the reorganisation work under the ‘Blueprint for Change’ programme will continue unaffected.

The programme does not seek any job losses but aims to make the service more responsive to the needs of children and families.

Pro rata Dorset has more children in its care than almost any other comparable council,  currently standing at more than 460.

'Listened to their arguments'

Parents involved with the campaign for a better deal for young people with additional needs say they believe the director was supportive of them and genuinely listen to their arguments for improvements.

The Dorset SEND service has been the subject of official complaints and findings which recommended that practices at Dorset Council need to be improved.

Photo of Parents for SEND

Ms Parker took up the position as Dorset Council’s executive director for children’s services in January and almost immediately set about a programme of consultation and reform.

Many parents with children who have additional needs said they felt that it was the first time they had been listened to.

'Budget overspend'

During her period in office the projected shortfall in budget continued to grow and currently is projected to be £15million over target at the end of the financial year – something which opposition councillors say is down to setting a budget which was unrealistic given the long-term trend.

The figure represents an ‘overspend’ of almost 14 per cent of the children’s services revenue budget.

Photo of protesters outside County Hall this morning

'Personal reasons'

Since the resignation announcement an internal memo has been revealed from chief executive Matt Prosser which suggests that personal reasons, relating to re-settling Ms Parker’s family in Dorset, played a large part in her decision to leave.

She asked staff for no official send off to mark her departure but said she would welcome sponsorship for her London Marathon run in the spring in aid of a children’s charity.

A statement released by Dorset Council said Parker had quit “in order to carry out other work outside of Dorset”.

Dorset Council

'Ofsted Inspection'

Ms Parker’s resignation comes just two months after a visit by Ofsted in early October which noted that changes in the senior leadership had made improvements.

It said that help and protection work for children was better but said there were still inconsistencies in key decision making, the quality of assessments and the frequency of social worker visits to children.

By Trevor Bevins, Local Democracy Reporter