Government officials have given Surrey Council until September 2010 to improve outcomes for vulnerable children or face tough sanctions.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families has issued an improvement notice to the council, whose children’s services were judged as inadequate last year in an annual performance assessment by Ofsted. The DCSF has drafted in experts to monitor progress.
The notice – a final warning before emergency powers are invoked – lists 29 objectives, ranging from structural reform to reducing social worker vacancies.
Implementation will be overseen by an improvement board chaired by the Improvement and Development Agency’s executive director, Lucy de Groot, and including DCSF representatives.
Failure to meet targets could result in some or all of the council’s children’s services being outsourced.
The DCSF issued its notice following a highly critical joint area review last year, which prompted a number of changes in senior management.
It found safeguarding, disabled children’s services and capacity to improve were inadequate, and criticised aspects of looked-after children’s services.
Surrey Council disputed its 2008 annual performance assessment rating on the grounds that Ofsted had disregarded other services which had been “independently judged excellent”.
However, a council spokesperson said it had “no concerns or complaints” regarding the improvement notice.
The learning curve
The DCSF’s improvement notice instructs Surrey Council to:
● Ensure all looked-after children have an allocated social worker by 31 March 2009.
● Improve the quality of practice through better supervision “at all levels within the council”.
● Review the competence of all staff and managers and appoint a permanent team of senior bosses by 31 March 2009. It currently has an interim children’ services director.