MEET the man who will play a vital role in ensuring York’s children are protected from abuse and neglect over the next three years.

Simon Westwood, 59, has taken over as independent chair of the city’s Safeguarding Children’s Board, which is charged with ensuring key agencies work closely together to ensure children and young people are safe.

He said all the agencies, which include City of York Council’s children’s services and education departments, North Yorkshire Police and the probation service, must be vigilant for anyone posing a threat to youngsters, regardless of any financial cuts they might be facing.

He said: “Even in the current economic climate, resources to protect children must be given the highest priority. It’s our job to identify and point out to organisations making budget changes the potential risks and make sure they have considered them.”

He said that as he worked his way into the job, he was beginning to set a series of key priorities.

He said: “I want to systematically capture the views of children and young people about service delivery – what are their experiences of it, what was helpful and what was not so helpful, what could we do differently, and what do they think are key priorities – and using that to inform future service plans and make York a safer place to live.”

Another priority was early access to services. “Are they getting help early when they need it, and do they know where to go? If we can intervene earlier, before things get too difficult and entrenched, there’s a better chance of successfully addressing those concerns, and it might also reduce the long term need for more expensive and complex services.”

He said he also wanted to spend some time meeting as many front- line staff as possible, to discover if they thought they were getting the support they needed.

“Ultimately, if you are going to provide high-quality services, front- line staff are the people that are going to deliver that. Are the organisations providing appropriate supervision, are managers systematically supporting them in theur work, and do the organisational policies and procedures help or hinder them?”

Mr Westwood, who has extensive experience, having previously served as assistant director of children's services at Bedford Borough Council, said about 120 children were under child protection plans at any one time. He said his first impression was that York had a good, sound framework in place to protect children, having been rated as a “good” authority by Ofsted.

“But what we need to do is strive for excellence.”