DCSF urged to liberate councils in children’s services

The Department for Children, Schools and Families is imposing excessive monitoring, inspection and other burdens on council children’s services, a government-appointed task force of town hall officials claimed today.
In a report, the Lifting the Burdens Task Force, set up by the government in 2006 to review Whitehall’s performance management of councils, said local authorities faced multiple and overlapping requests for data from DCSF and Ofsted officials.
DCSF “field forces” – teams of civil servants designed to support councils in particular areas – were in practice checking how well services were being delivered, a job councils felt was best performed by Ofsted.
While the introduction of the annual performance assessment (APA) and joint area reviews of council children’s services in 2005 were designed to lower burdens on better-performing authorities, the best councils faced a similar volume of inspection as the rest.

Survey of children’s directors

A survey of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, cited in the report, found 16 of 70 respondents rated the conduct of the 2007 APA as poor, with concerns over the consistency of judgements and the quality of inspectors.
The task force review, headed by ADCS joint president John Coughlan, also found that the introduction of new computer systems – the integrated children’s system, the electronic common assessment framework and ContactPoint – had increased administrative costs, contrary to government hopes.

Less focus on children’s needs

Council staff also felt the ICS, an electronic case management system, had reduced the focus on meeting the needs of children and families, increasing the emphasis on compliance with processes.
The report called for the DCSF to reduce duplication and make faster progress on reducing data collection burdens on councils, assess and fully fund councils’ costs in implementing the children’s IT systems and scale back the use of field forces.
Coughlan said the study showed there was “a long way to go” in freeing councils from unnecessary burdens, though the DCSF had latterly made progress in this regard.

DCSF response

A DCSF spokesperson said: “The report stresses the importance of smarter and more focussed working, making a range of valuable and interesting suggestions which we will be looking at in detail and working with local authorities to consider.”

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