Praise for progress in Surrey children’s services

AN update on children’s services in Surrey, which were labelled inadequate in an independent report last year, has revealed progress in all but two of 15 target areas.

One critical area where the required level has not yet been reached is assessments being carried out on all managers and staff within children’s services, but the latest report has been described as refreshing and positive by a children’s charity.

Last summer’s Ofsted-led Joint Area Review (JAR) was critical of the services provided by public agencies in Surrey, and improvement notices were served on the county council, specifying actions and targets to be achieved.

Of the 15 improvements targeted by the end of last month, 13 have been met in full, including demands that assessments and reviews for children’s social care be carried out more quickly.

Also on target was the allocation of all looked-after children to a named social worker, and new management teams and strategies being put in place.

Donald Findlater, director of research and development with child protection charity The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, welcomed the progress made.

“The [new] report is a refreshing, positive piece of news about major improvements accomplished in the provision of services to vulnerable children and young people in Surrey,” he said.

“Last year’s JAR report provided a much needed wake-up call to the council, its managers and staff in the light of inadequate services to some of the most vulnerable in our community.

“I have witnessed some of the enormous effort that has gone into these recent improvements, and believe the public of Surrey can be reassured that the culture of service provision has changed, with the recent report providing evidence of this improvement.”

The other missed target was not being able to bring in a new computer system. However, Councillor Dorothy Mitchell, executive member for children and families at Surrey County Council, said the authority was working towards fulfilling the remaining target areas.

Assessments of the social care managers look likely to be completed by the end of May, she said, adding: “They are working on that, but it’s been a matter of time. There has been so much to do in a short period of time.

“Generally, I’m pleased the targets have been met. An awful lot of work has gone into getting the targets where they are, but what we now have to concentrate on is ensuring all these targets are maintained.”

The report, to be presented to the council’s children and families select committee on Tuesday (April 21), was the first phase of the improvement notice requirements, with further challenges to be met up to October 2010.

It highlighted the importance of meeting the targets to benefit education, employment and health outcomes for young people and improving the safeguarding of children.

Mr Findlater agreed there was still room for improvement, saying: “The recently achieved progress needs to be maintained into the longer term, and some targets for improvement are set higher for next year. There is no room for complacency.

“But these achievements need to be acknowledged and applauded, and then sights set on achieving the targets for the year ahead.”