Policy-makers at the Department for Children, Schools and Families are failing to engage with children’s services providers, an internal appraisal has found.
Officials from the Cabinet Office have instructed colleagues in the DCSF to improve their consultation with outside agencies on how policies can work in practice.
The first review into the DCSF’s capability to carry out long-term objectives, published last week, found overall improvements in leadership, strategy and delivery, and no areas of serious concern or in need of urgent development.
The leadership receives the highest rating – “strong” – in two domains, for “igniting passion, pace and drive” and “taking responsibility for leading delivery and change”.
The previous review in 2006 assessed the Department for Education and Skills, which was succeeded by the DCSF upon its creation a year ago.
Since that report, the department has “developed a clear high-level strategy in the Children’s Plan, and addressed many weaknesses in systems and processes”.
However, three areas are in need of improvement: building capability, building common purpose, and developing clear roles and responsibilities in delivery.
The department’s track record for partnership working with outside agencies is also criticised.
Officials are praised for last year’s consultations with service providers while drawing up the Children’s Plan, the 169-page, ten-year blueprint, which was published in December.
However, the report adds: “There is a mismatch between a well-articulated plan and a perception among staff, stakeholders and delivery partners of a long list of priorities and initiatives.”
Elsewhere the DCSF, which completed its first year as a government department last month, boasts a “passionate and motivated” workforce of 2,600 staff.
However, officials recommended an immediate assessment “of the skills mix required to meet its future business needs”.
John Coughlan, the immediate past-president the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said it was a “positive report”, adding that the DCSF’s partnership work with local authorities was “better than I’ve ever known it”.
“We all know the Children’s Plan is a tremendously ambitious document. The capability review realises that it gives a sense of direction,” said Coughlan, director of children’s services at Hampshire council.
“The difficulty is that it’s so ambitious and packed with initiatives that there’s that sense of ‘what comes first and how does it work’, but there is a timeline there as well.”