A SENIOR manager responsible for overseeing the care of some of Southampton's most vulnerable youngsters has resigned just 24 hours before the launch of a major shake-up of children's services in the city.

Kim Drake stepped down as service director for children and families at Southampton City Council after 14 months in the jobs.

She took over the role following a series of scandals including the deaths of four youngsters.

Her shock departure comes as the city council revealed an overhaul of services aiming to reduce the number of children in care by a third in the face of £42.3m budget cuts.

Last night council bosses refused to confirm Ms Drake's reason for leaving - but stressed she will continue in post until an interim replacement is found.

As previously reported Ms Drake was brought in to replace Alison Elliott, the former director of people, to ensure the authority continued to improve following the deaths of four youngsters.

The council was heavily criticised after the deaths of seven-year-old Blake Fowler, three-month-old Nico Maynard and brothers Jayden and Bradley Adams, who were two and four.

They died within months of each other and Serious Case Reviews found that there was a series of “missed opportunities” to help the youngsters.

And while the council’s social services department has improved, the most recent Ofsted inspection still said improvement is required.

The authority has twice the number of children in care than the national average.

The number of children being looked after by the authority in the period 2010-15 rose by 42.9 per cent compared to 5.3 per cent nationally. On average there are 612 children being looked after at any one time.

The number of placements with Independent Fostering Agencies (IFAs) - which are up to three times more expensive than internal placements - has increased by 30 per cent between April 2014 and December 2015.

Factors including poverty and alcohol-related domestic abuse are thought to behind the rising number of children who are removed their family homes.

The council's new Children's Transformation Plan aims to slash £7million by reducing the number of children the authority looks after from 600 to 400.

Council chiefs says the move will improve early intervention services to prevent family break downs.

Conservative opposition leader Jeremy Moulton said he was concerned at Ms Drake's departure just weeks before the scheme is introduced.

He said: "It is an enormously challenging role and it is worrying for the future for a senior person to go at this stage.

"They need someone who is able to see these changes through from start to finish."

Independent Redbridge ward councillor Andrew Pope said: "After many years, there continue to be very serious problems with the council's Children's Services.

"Neither the Conservatives, nor Labour, have addressed these problems and children continue to be put at risk by the council's failures."

Last night a council spokesman was unable to disclose why Ms Drake had left.

But council chief executive Dawn Baxendale praised her work and said: "Kim has explored ways of transforming services and developed proposals to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families while reducing costs.

“I would like to thank Kim for her work here and wish her all the very best in the future.”

Council leader Simon Letts also thanked her and added said: "Our plan includes proposals and initiatives drawn from best practise across the country.

"These actions have worked in cities similar to ours like Leeds and Wolverhampton we are confident they will work here."

In a statement to her team, Ms Drake said: "I have really appreciated all of the commitment and hard work you have all demonstrated to make lives better for all children and young people in Southampton.

"That will continue I know.

"You have good strong service leads in post and the transformation to smaller teams, reducing demand and innovative reshaping of how you work will be a positive way forward."

The Children’s Transformation Plan involves:

  • Redesigning Early Help and Emergency Duty services so they are more streamlined to help families.
  • Promoting Special Guardianship Orders which make it easier for other relatives to look after children.
  • Introduction of a Nationa; Lottery supported programme to help families.
  • Transferring looked after children from IFAs to in-house provisions - saving £3.5m by 2019/20 with more targeted recruitment.
  • Adoption services will be moved to regional adoption agencies in line with national trend to save the authority £111,000.
  • The plans also includes factoring in extra costs from looking after 10 children who are unaccompanied asylum seekers.