Herefordshire Council has received a High Court judgment about its Children’s Social Care services.

27 April 2021

Statement from the Leader of Herefordshire Council, Cllr David Hitchiner, in response to today’s extraordinary council meeting.

During today’s extraordinary council meeting we as corporate parents have accepted the findings of the High Court judgment and take full accountability for the failings of our Children’s Social Care Services.  For the past failings of this council I repeat my apologies and those of this council to the children and families involved.

Following today’s debate we welcome the recommendations in the report and will build on these to improve the services we offer to Herefordshire children and their families.  These recommendations include the implementation of the Assurance and Improvement Strategy that will guide the much needed changes in our culture and practices.  We will establish an Improvement Board and appoint an Independent Chair as approved by the Department for Education.  We have also agreed to fund the commissioning of external reviews.  A process for exit reviews will be implemented for children’s social care staff who are leaving the organisation, enabling us to improve. In addition to this we will engage quickly with the children and young people scrutiny committee meeting and provide them with an action plan as soon as possible.

I believe we have reached a watershed moment, which we as leaders we must recognise and embrace as an opportunity.  We cannot hide, we cannot live in denial and cannot fail to deliver.  We must improve and our current culture must change, however significant change will take time. By accepting our failings and being open to change we will move forward to ensure the welfare and best interests of the children who are at the heart of everything we do. 

We have a new Chief Executive, Paul Walker.  Paul is a highly experienced Chief Executive and is ready to lead Herefordshire Council’s drive for improvement.  We are also very fortunate to have recruited Cath Knowles as Interim Director of Children’s Services.  Cath is a qualified social worker with experience of turning round failing social services and has the confidence of the various government bodies that are already involved in our improvement process.

The Secretary of State has appointed an Improvement Adviser, Gladys Rhodes White, who will work with us for a minimum of 12 months, and until such time that the Secretary of State is satisfied this is no longer required.  Mrs White is an outstanding leader with substantial expertise and skills in transforming and improving services and outcomes for children and families.

It is important to recognise that there are examples in our Children’s Services of work that is being done really well and we thank our staff for this.  We recognise that our staff are extremely hard working and under the new leadership they will work with us to ensure we offer Herefordshire children and their families, the highest level of care and support possible.  We will build on this commitment to ensure these high standards are consistent across the whole of the Children and Families directorate.

If you have any concerns about the way you or your family have been treated by Herefordshire Children’s Social Care services, you can contact us at or email

If you are a child or young person and need someone to talk to Childline is free, private and confidential. Call 0800 1111 or visit

20 April 2021

An extraordinary meeting of the Council will be held on Tuesday 27 April, at 10am, to receive a report on the judgement of The Hon Mr Justice Keehan, following recent children’s social care proceedings heard in the Family Division of the Royal Courts of Justice.

This report summarises the issues raised in the judgment and sets out a strategy for assuring the current social care service is safe in the immediate term and then improves in the future.

At the meeting Council members will also be asked to approve an Assurance and Improvement Strategy to provide assurance that service risks are being effectively managed and mitigated, and the establishment of an Independently Chaired Children and Families Improvement Board to oversee and monitor the implementation of a Children’s Services Improvement Plan.

Read the agenda and meeting papers.

Any member of the public can submit a question in relation to this agenda item for consideration. The deadline for questions from members of the public is 5pm on Wednesday 21 April 2021.

You can watch the meeting live on the Council’s Youtube channel

16 April 2021

Statement from the Leader of the Council regarding High Court judgment

Leader of the Council- Cllr David Hitchiner

“I am deeply disturbed and saddened by this judgment. On behalf of the council, I would like to apologise to the family affected by the appalling failings identified by Mr Justice Keehan. The latest judgment shows the previous steps taken to make improvements in Children’s Services have fallen short of what is required to protect and safeguard the children of Herefordshire. Cabinet have requested the Monitoring Officer calls an Extraordinary Meeting of Council to agree swift and decisive action to improve these services. We will be working closely with our partner agencies to ensure we do our utmost to protect and safeguard the children of Herefordshire. I would encourage all those with questions to submit them to the meeting, so we can have a full and frank discussion about how we can improve our Children’s Services.”

The Extraordinary Council meeting will take place on 27 April and guidance on how to submit a question can be found on our website.

Statement from Claire Ward, Acting Deputy Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service, Herefordshire Council

I am upset by this judgment and deeply sorry that we have failed this family. We have neglected the needs of the children and their carers and deprived the parents of their rights. I am saddened that our actions deprived a Mother of her right to say goodbye to her child and my deepest sympathies are with the family on their loss. We will provide the family with any required support and care to rebuild relationships and to help repair some of the damage we have done.

I have taken immediate action to address the serious issues highlighted by this judgment. There is a clear need for an urgent and thorough external review of Herefordshire Children’s Social Care Services. The attitudes, culture and professional practice demonstrated in this judgment is shocking and well below the standards we expect. Appropriate action will be taken on the conclusion of our investigations, in accordance with the council’s HR procedures, any relevant professional body requirements, and the law.  It is evident that our previous commitments to improve our social care services for children have fallen sadly short of the standards expected and we have failed to provide the expected and appropriate support to this family. This is indefensible.

The incoming Chief Executive, Paul Walker, has been working closely with the senior management team to ensure we make real and sustainable changes to our Children’s Social Care services. We have appointed Cath Knowles as Interim Director of Children’s Services, who is a qualified and registered Social Worker, to provide professional experience, leadership and assurance for the coming months. Our Social Workers continue to do their best, often in very difficult circumstances, to support families and protect vulnerable children in our community. We will ensure our staff have the support they need and the confidence and commitment to report any concerns as we make significant and lasting improvements to Herefordshire Children’s Services.

We have notified Ofsted and we are working closely with regulators and partner agencies to ensure we protect and safeguard the children of Herefordshire. We have added further reassurance measures within Children’s Services to ensure appropriate checks are undertaken for decisions relating to children in our care. The judgment also identified incorrect legal advice being given to management. This advice was plainly wrong and there have been significant changes made to the management and staff within the Children’s Legal Team to ensure processes are observed and advice is sound.

I requested a Department for Education review of our Children’s Social Care services to assess whether children in care are safe in Herefordshire. This review took place last week and found no immediate actions were required on the cases they reviewed but clearly further external reviews will be required to make sure our service is fit for purpose. While we seek to understand the full extent of past decisions made within Children’s Services, we regret that we may find further instances that do not meet the required standards. If you have any concerns about the way you or your family have been treated by Herefordshire Children’s Social Care services, you can contact us at or email

If you are a child or young person and need someone to talk to Childline is free, private and confidential. Call 0800 1111 or visit

The Samaritans are also available any time of the day or night - call 116 123 or visit

Published: 20th April 2021