Tributes paid to director who ‘dedicated her life to helping children’

Tributes have been paid to a ‘much loved and respected’ senior officer at Nottingham City Council.

Helen Blackman, who was the authority’s Director of Children’s Integrated Services, died on Wednesday morning.

Mrs Blackman, aged 54 and who lived in Bulwell, first qualified as a social worker in 1989 and had dedicated her working life to improving opportunities for children and young people in Nottingham and the wider area.

She had recently been receiving treatment at the Queen’s Medical Centre following complications caused by Covid-19.

Mrs Blackman is the fourth member of staff at Nottingham City Council to pass away after contracting Covid-19. She leaves behind her husband and four children.

Mrs Blackman, who studied at Nottingham Trent University, spent almost a decade working for Nottinghamshire County Council, specialising in child protection, children in care and adoption services.

In 1998, she moved to Nottingham City Council where she took on a series of management roles before becoming Head of Neighbourhood Fieldwork in 2008. In 2013, she was appointed Director of Children’s Integrated Services where she had overall responsibility for children and young people in the city.

A tribute will be paid to her at the start of Monday’s meeting of Full Council.

Councillor David Mellen, Leader of Nottingham City Council, worked closely with Mrs Blackman during his years as Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People.

He said: “I was aware that Helen had been very poorly for a few weeks, but I still feel a profound sense of shock and loss at her passing.

“Before becoming leader of the council, I spent many years with responsibility for Children’s Services in Nottingham which meant that I worked very closely with Helen, her senior staff and wider team.

“She was inspirational in the way she led the department and was held in the highest esteem by her staff. She cared deeply for children and young people and was entirely focused on improving their life chances.

“Helen worked tirelessly to support our children in care and those waiting to be fostered or adopted. She knew many of them well and retained huge amounts of detail about their circumstances. Helen always conducted herself with great integrity and did what she felt was right.

“But more than that, she was a lovely person with a wonderful smile and a contagious laugh who dedicated her life to helping children. I feel privileged to have known and worked with her, and my most heartfelt condolences are with Helen’s family, friends and colleagues at this sad time.”

Mel Barrett, Chief Executive of Nottingham City Council, said: “I had only known Helen for a few months but the warmth of her personality, and her absolute commitment to do the best for children in Nottingham clearly shone through.

“Helen dedicated her career to public service in support of the most vulnerable, wishing to see the best start in life for all children. She was a person of significant influence working across the council for many years, and held in the highest regard by those who worked with her.

“Our thoughts and prayers will be for Helen’s family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time. Her loss will be felt very deeply, and we will be liaising with the family over the coming days and weeks to get their views on how memories of Helen can be brought together and shared with them.”

Cheryl Barnard, Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People, said: “Helen was passionate about delivering quality services for children and families in Nottingham. Her warmth and approachability resulted in really positive relationships with our staff, partners, foster carers and children in care.  

“Helen provided excellent leadership within Children’s Integrated Services and will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with her family at this very sad time.”

Catherine Underwood, Corporate Director for People, said: “We are absolutely devastated by the loss of Helen, who was an incredibly dedicated colleague and a true friend to many at the Council and beyond – she will be deeply missed.

“Helen was a passionate champion for children and young people and an inspirational social work leader, both locally and nationally. She always had time for others and went out of her way to help people in so many ways.   

“She was held in such high esteem by her team, who loved her warm smile, her sense of fun and her unequivocal commitment to improving the lives of children. No issue was ever too big or too small.

“Helen worked tirelessly to improve the life chances of children in our city and there can be no doubting the difference she made. She is a tremendous loss to Nottingham will be missed by many people.” 

Sarah Caton, Chief Officer of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, of which Mrs Blackman was a long-serving member, said: “Helen was hugely respected and had an ability to spread her energy and enthusiasm for helping children and families to all those she met. She touched so many people’s lives with her work and her friendship. Helen truly had the principles and values of social work running in her blood.

“Working with Helen was always a pleasure and a laugh. Her deep understanding of the issues facing children was immense and she will be sorely missed by all of us. Helen was above all a kind and caring person and this always shone through in the work she did with and for the Association. I can’t believe we’ve lost her.”

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