A local authority graded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted earlier this year after social workers were found to be ‘overloaded’ has been told it will keep hold of its children’s services for at least another 12 months.
A report published this week, by Trevor Doughty, the commissioner appointed to oversee improvements at Surrey council, recommended the county be given another year “to demonstrate the action plan it has put in place is working”.
In the wake of the report being published the Department for Education issued a revised statutory direction ordering Surrey to continue working with Doughty and to assess progress at six-monthly intervals.
The council has also entered partnerships with three peers – Hampshire, Essex and Hertfordshire – to work on specific areas of its children’s services as it bids to turn things round.
‘Proven track record’
Doughty based his recommendations largely on Surrey’s appointment of a new leadership team, led by director of children’s services (DCS) Dave Hill, who he described as having a “proven track record in bringing about significant improvements”.
Hill was previously in charge at Essex, where children’s services rose from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ during his tenure, as well as serving as president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS).
“[Hill] has been concentrating on structure and strategy and building a leadership team he can have confidence in to make the right changes,” Doughty wrote, echoing the tone of a recent Ofsted monitoring report.
“There are several experienced individuals working in the new team [and Hill] is introducing best practice from around the country and there are several examples already of such innovation,” he added.
Doughty concluded that given Surrey’s “clear intention of the and significant resources allocated to the task” of improvements, it would be a “distraction” to take children’s services out of the council’s control at this early stage.
‘Lack of coherence’
Despite its reprieve, Doughty’s assessment of the current state of play at Surrey, based on six two-day visits to different offices, suggested the council still has a mountain to climb.
The multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) was described as “not fit for purpose” and with a disconnect between its strategic lead and operational development that left social workers feeling “not confident, valued or listened to”.
Early help services were found to be “fragmented”, with help and protection also characterised by a “lack of coherence and consistency”.
Doughty praised Surrey for seeking outside help to progress, commenting that the “learning culture [Hill] is seeking to develop is an appropriate and important approach” and noting good morale among frontliners.
But staff and partners “do not yet feel involved in the analysis and solutions and are not yet clear about the way ahead”, the report warned.
‘Committed and skilled staff’
Responding to the report, a Surrey council spokesman said: “We welcome the report and the decision for the commissioner and his team to continue to work with us over the coming year as we transform and improve our services for children in Surrey and their families.”
The spokesman added that the council was heartened by Doughty’s recognition of its “strong leadership” and apparent potential for change.
“The report highlights that we have many committed and skilled staff who feel optimistic about the future,” the spokesman said. “We’re absolutely determined to work with them so everything possible is done to ensure support for children in Surrey is the very best it can be.”