The government is sending expert teams to nine authorities with failing children’s services following the annual performance assessments, which were published today.
The APAs showed that the number of authorities in England with good or outstanding children’s services fell this year from 78% to 73%.
No councils were inadequate overall in 2007, compared to four this year – Doncaster, Haringey, Milton Keynes and Surrey. Birmingham, Doncaster, Essex, Haringey, Reading, Surrey, West Sussex and Wokingham were also assessed as inadequate in safeguarding.
At the top of the ratings, Gateshead, Kensington and Chelsea and York were graded as outstanding for children’s services.
In response, Ed Balls said his department had either already intervened or was sending in expert teams to the nine authorities with overall inadequate judgements or failings in safeguarding.
“Following initial discussions we will then decide what further action or support is required. In all cases we will work with the authorities concerned – and with the Local Government Association – to put in place improvement support or intervention as quickly as possible,” he added.
Failings on serious case reviews
Balls added that experts had already been sent to authorities with multiple inadequate serious case reviews following Ofsted’s evaluation of SCRs published a fortnight ago.
Children’s minister Beverley Hughes said that Surrey Council had been given a two-year improvement notice and had replaced key staff, while school improvement support was in place in Milton Keynes. She also confirmed that action was being taken in Doncaster, Birmingham, Reading, Wokingham, Essex, and West Sussex.
Following the Baby P case in Haringey, Balls replaced the children’s director Sharon Shoesmith with Enfield Council’s Peter Lewis, and will receive monthly updates on progress.
From next year, the APAs will be scrapped as part of the introduction of a new assessment system, the comprehensive area assessment. As part of this, Ofsted will carry out unannounced annual inspections of safeguarding practice in every local authority and full inspections of services for vulnerable children every three years.
In response to today’s results, Margaret Eaton, chair of the Local Government Association, said: “The message has gone out loud and clear from all those who work to protect the nation’s children that poor performance cannot be tolerated and that there needs to be the help, training and support to ensure that everyone can raise their game.”
ADCS: Minimise burden
Maggie Atkinson, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, welcomed the forthcoming inspection system but warned that it should not divert authorities’ resources away from the frontline. “We must strive to minimise the burden of inspections, especially on the highest performing authorities,” she said.
“Those councils which are performing less well, overall and in specific areas, will be looking very carefully at their APA letters and scores, and the underlying evidence, and considering how improvements can be made,” she added.
The ADCS has previously criticised plans for unannounced annual safeguarding inspections of councils, despite ministers making them a key plank of their response to the Baby P case. The association warned the proposed annual one-day visits assessing child protection arrangements may “disrupt vital service delivery” while the methodology could lack “sophistication”.