New children’s services director appointed for Surrey

Admin, 9 September 2020

Rachael Wardell (photo by Paul Tanner Photography)
By Julie Armstrong, Local Democracy Reporter, 4 September 2020

The new person responsible for keeping Surrey’s 250,000 children safe has been appointed by Surrey County Council.

Rachael Wardell will start as executive director of children, families and lifelong learning in December, moving over from an equivalent role in the London borough of Merton.

She fills a pivotal cabinet post left vacant by the unexpected death of Dave Hill in June.

When Mr Hill joined in April 2018 he immediately faced the task of transforming the service after an inadequate Ofsted rating – at the time predicting it would take three years to bring it up to scratch.

At a fourth monitoring visit in November 2019 Ofsted said the quality of child protection was improving, though required further work.

Mary Lewis, SCC’s cabinet member for children, young people and families, said: “We were all very sad to lose Dave.

“He was all about evidence-based solutions and really looked all over the country for examples of best practice to follow.”

One such example was the No Wrong Door approach, taken from North Yorkshire, which aimed to avoid teenagers going into care through temporary accommodation and conciliation work with families.

Cllr Lewis added: “The biggest worry now is with children not being at school the teachers haven’t seen them to realise how bad things have got at home. We’ve already had a significant increase in referrals and a surge of need makes it hard to keep social workers’ caseloads down.

“It isn’t good to be without a person at the top in the middle of an improvement journey, especially in these circumstances, so we’re very excited to be recruiting such a well-qualified person.”

Rachael Wardell, who has worked in Merton since May 2018, said she was excited at the prospect of being part of further improvement.

“To be offered the opportunity of continuing the work Dave started is a huge personal privilege,” she said. “Like many others, I was inspired by his approach.”

She previously spent five years as director of both children’s and adult social services at West Berkshire Council.

She also worked for Ofsted for seven years, where she was responsible for children’s policy projects in early years and social care.

Surrey’s latest Ofsted visit due in April was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.