Alexis Jay OBE, who was the Scottish Government's chief Social Work Adviser, will lead the investigation into how men were able to sexually abuse young girls who were under the care of Rotherham Borough Council.
The sexual exploitation which dates back to 1997 has cost Jahangir Akhtar the deputy leadership of the council. He resigned in August this year, but strenuously denied allegations that he knew about a relationship between a girl in care and a suspected child abuser. One report claimed he is related to the alleged offender.
Solicitors acting for four women are planning to sue the local authority, alleging it failed to protect them from systematic abuse when they were younger.
Ms Jay also led inspection of services for children in care in Jersey.
The inquiry into sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham is to cover cases identified from 1997 and the present. Ms Jay has been commissioned with the support of the Local Government Association and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.
Ms Jay spent more than 30 years working in local councils in deprived areas of Edinburgh, Glasgow and West Central Scotland. She was Director of Social Work and Housing in West Dunbartonshire from 2000 to 2005.
In 2005 she was invited by the Scottish Government to set up the Social Work Inspection Agency (SWIA) - a government agency to inspect all aspects of local authority social services. In this role, she was Chief Inspector of Social Work for Scotland.
When SWIA was merged into the Care Inspectorate in 2011, she took up the newly-created post of Chief Social Work Adviser to Scottish Ministers, a post from which she retired in March 2013.
She was awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2012.
Ms Jay will be supported by Sheila Taylor, chief executive of the charitable network NWG, who will be consultant to the inquiry.
Martin Kimber, Chief Executive of Rotherham Borough Council, said: "We are extremely pleased that we have secured the services of such high calibre individuals to undertake this crucial piece of work, and who feel able to dedicate the significant amount of time that will be required from their busy schedules."
The legal action being brought by the women came after MPs said during the summer that the council had failed in its duty of care."
Lawyer David Greenwood, who is acting for some of the alleged victims, has claimed that inaction by social services and the police left hundreds of teenagers open to child sexual exploitation.
Earlier this year, a woman revealed how she started a relationship with a man, then 24, when she was just 14. He had been in prison for violence, it is claimed.
It is alleged by the woman that he made her pregnant. It was also alleged that social services were aware before it ended and claimed he was part of a ring of men who are thought to have abused more than 40 teenagers in Rotherham.
A report claimed that police and social services knew in 2000 that she was in a sexual relationship with him, despite the fact she was placed in emergency foster care.
The woman reportedly claimed: "My parents tried everything to keep [the man] away from me, but I thought I was in love with him.
"When I went into care I stopped running away. Social services let me see him all the time."