Speculation has been mounting that Jill Baker is either about to be sacked or asked to resign. But when we put these questions to Salford Council press office all they would confirm was that "Jill Baker is still in post and working for the Council". When we tried to contact her directly we were told that she was "on leave", a situation that is usually inconceivable given that this is the first week of the school year.
Baker's position has become more untenable since the Serious Case Review into the Demi Leigh tragedy which concluded that "opportunities were missed by Children's Services to undertake child protection enquires following the referrals by members of the public" and "There were a number of times when Children's Services should have started a child protection investigation but did not."
Since the report was issued, no-one from Children's Services has been publicly officially disciplined, and Salford Council will not be drawn on the matter, despite persistent rumours… "At any one time there might be any number of internal disciplinary processes in train across any directorate within the city council and it is not appropriate for the authority to identify in the media individuals who might be involved in a disciplinary process."
Salford Star was the first publication in the country to call for Jill Baker to resign following an OFSTED Report back in November 2007 which slated Salford Council's record in looking after the most vulnerable children in the city. The Report stated that "the council's services for supporting children and young people to stay safe are inadequate".
In spring 2008 Council Leader John Merry admitted in the Salford Star "I'm making changes to make sure that never happens again". A few months after this appeared Demi Leigh was murdered.
The irony is that Jill Baker was actually promoted to Strategic Director of Children's Services following an internal Council Audit in April 2005 in the wake of the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie (published in 2003). The Audit concluded that Salford "has had to limit provision (on child protection) for children in need." A case study report into social care, welfare and protection by Salford Council's Andy Hampson in June 2005 further stated that "a lot of the problems are down to lack of resources…early intervention is almost impossible..."
Meanwhile, over a year later, Salford Primary Care Trust board meeting minutes from September 2006 acknowledge that "Salford applies a high threshold in responding to child protection concerns which can lead to agencies not referring children when concerns about their welfare first emerge. As a consequence of this, some families are subject to avoidable pressure, children may experience preventable abuse or neglect and relationships between agencies may become strained…"
Indeed, in virtually every year since the Victoria Climbie inquiry, Salford Council's Children's Services has come in for criticism on child protection issues…
On the Demi Leigh death, Jill Baker stated "The report says this was an unavoidable death - that doesn't mean we're not at fault collectively, and we accept that."
The Victoria Climbie inquiry, in its recommendations, firmly put the onus for the safety of children on "Directors of Social Services and elected members"…
"Directors of Social Services and elected members must ensure that front line social workers dealing with complex child protection cases are appropriately qualified, trained and experienced and are supported through regular supervision, up to date practice guidance and operational procedures and manageable workloads."
And following this, Salford Council actually drew up a list of exact roles and responsibilities for Safeguarding Children. This was amended in 2006 and included…
1. The Leader of the Council: Ensure that the Council gives priority to safeguarding children coherently and consistently in service planning and resource allocation.
2. The Cabinet Lead for Children's Services: Ensure that the Council's Children's Services responsibilities are properly considered, supported and monitored by the Cabinet…Work with the Director of Children's Services to ensure the Directorate is adequately funded and staffed to deliver these priorities…
3. The Chief Executive: Make sure statutory inter-agency arrangements are in place…and ensure there is an open culture between local agencies and good direct communications between senior managers so that they accept and address concerns brought to their attention.
4. The Director of Children's Services: Ensure that the directorate has access to a range of effective, efficient and flexible services that protect and support vulnerable children and their families.
5. The Director of Community, Health and Social Care: Ensure that staff delivering social care services to adults are watchful for any child protection issues in families they are dealing with.
6. Local Safeguarding Children Board: The inter-agency group with responsibility for agreeing how the different services and professional groups should co-operate to safeguard children in Salford, and for making sure that arrangements work effectively to bring about good outcomes for children.
In 2008 the Chair of the Local Safeguarding Children Board (budget almost £170,000) was Jill Baker, Director of Children's Services.
All of the five Directors and Elected Members who were top of the Council tree and directly accountable for safeguarding children are still in post.
Last month, Salford's Children's Champion left the Council.
For an update on this story (11.9.2009) click here