The true state of Herefordshire’s troubled children’s and family services directorate is being kept quiet, a senior councillor has alleged.

The Department for Education (DfE) served Herefordshire Council with an improvement notice in May in the wake of a damning High Court judgement on the directorate’s conduct.

Cabinet member for children’s and family services Diana Toynbee has now prepared a report into the programme of improvements required of the council.

At a full council debate, some councillors thought her report was too critical of the service and would further damage morale within it.

However LibDems group leader Coun Terry James called it “a positive spin on what is a damaging position for the council”.

“Most of the staff, and the families that are being dealt with, would be appalled at this debate, given the true state of the service,” he said.

“We are not being told the legal and financial implications of what has happened. We are paying out substantial sums of money that members are not aware of, and are incurring phenomenal legal costs (resulting from) the way staff have been treated.”

Chair of the children and young people scrutiny committee Coun Phillip Howells denied the committee was unaware of the true situation within the directorate.

“We are taking bottom-up approach, getting feedback from those on the ground who experience the services,” he said. “And we have doubled the number of scrutiny meetings.”

Leader of the council Coun David Hitchiner said he and Coun Toynbee had also talked one-on-one with council social workers, who “were critical but positive about change”.

Coun Toynbee’s report was “honest” he said, adding: “I question whether we haven’t in the past been too soft on ourselves. I was shocked and appalled what the DfE said about the voice of the child not being heard.”

Coun Toynbee’s report accepted that current practice in the directorate “lacks a focus on children and their needs”.

Coun Roger Phillips meanwhile said he had “managed to unpick” that 24 out of 84 positions in the directorate, nearly three in ten, were vacant in August, and sought an update on this.

Coun Toynbee replied: “I am still pushing for that information and it will be shared.”

Her report also acknowledged that low staff morale “is affecting retention during a time when recruitment of experienced social work practitioners is an ongoing challenge”.

Chief executive of the council Paul Walker earlier confirmed that Catherine Knowles had resigned as interim director for children and families “for personal reasons”, and had been replaced, again on an interim basis, by children’s improvement director Darryl Freeman.

He earlier said that a permanent replacement was unlikely to be in place before next February.

Ms Knowles was recruited in spring to address the council’s failings identified in Mr Justice Keehan’s judgement and the subsequent DfE improvement notice.