Inspectors have praised an external management team for leading “significant and rapid progress” in children’s services at Stoke-on-Trent Council.
A joint area review published this week credits independent provider Serco, which took over the running of the service in April 2007, with “accelerating” improvements after previous inspections highlighted serious deficiencies in leadership.
Ministers appointed Serco to act as senior managers of the authority’s children’s services following a damning JAR published in 2006.
This criticised social work assessments and the local safeguarding children board, and found safeguarding was ‘inadequate’. Ofsted reached the same judgement on the council’s safeguarding arrangements in an annual performance assessment in 2007.
Management and capacity both ‘good’
However, the latest JAR judged safeguarding and services for looked-after and disabled children as ‘adequate’, while gradings for the quality of service management and capacity to improve had risen to ‘good’. A similar judgement was reached for the council’s children’s services in Stoke’s 2008 annual performance assessment, published last month.
The JAR found that the social care duty and assessment service was “safe and effective”, with high levels of management oversight, while performance by the youth offending service was strong.
According to the report, carried out by Ofsted, the Healthcare Commission and other inspectorates, improvements in Stoke-on-Trent were “accelerated” after the start of the unique partnership.
It said: “Senior politicians, managers and staff in the council and partner agencies have good ambitions… effective leadership has resulted in rapid improvements.”
However, it raised concerns about the range of preventive services for families in need of more targeted and intensive support.
Private and voluntary partnership
Following the 2006 JAR, the council actively engaged with government officials to form the Serco partnership, which is halfway through its three-year contract.
Elected Mayor Mark Meredith said: “The employment of Serco Ltd…along with the determination and efforts of our staff has thankfully improved safeguarding to an adequate level.”
Innovative partnership turns around children’s services in Stoke-on-Trent