‘Significant progress’ for Surrey’s children’s services department

County Hall (credit: Surrey County Council)
By Rebecca Curley, Local Democracy Reporter, 22 Jan 2020

A Government-appointed commissioner drafted in to oversee changes in Surrey County Council’s (SCC) failing children’s services department has made final recommendations.

Trevor Doughty said there are now “clear signs that performance and quality of practice are improving” and that “significant progress” has been made.

He concluded in his report that government intervention by taking children’s services away from the control of Surrey “no longer needs to be a consideration”.

Mr Doughty was appointed non-executive commissioner for SCC after Ofsted inspectors rated children’s services “inadequate” in May 2018.

This was the second time Surrey had received a damning report with inspectors finding “widespread and serious failures” around the protection of vulnerable children in the county.

Mr Doughty, former director of children services (DCS) at Cornwall County Council and now DCS at the Local Government Association, was sent in by the secretary of state for education in June 2018 to determine if Surrey should retain control of children services.

Writing in his report published on 20 December, 2019, and released this week with council papers, he said: “Progress has been impressive and there is clear evidence of practice improvement and cultural change. Staff morale is good and they report a positive working environment.”

He added: “Of course there is still must [sic] work to do and maintaining pace will be a significant challenge but the authority has come a long way in a short time in terms of improving services to children, young people and families in Surrey.”

Mr Doughty said there still needed to be more work in helping social work teams and partner agencies understand the new Early Help work for children aged up to 11, which replaced children centres, and he warned the number of children in care placed out of county remained high and needed to be reduced.

But he said the senior management team is “strong” and SCC has “demonstrated a commitment to improving and prioritising children services”.

This was the third and final report from Mr Doughty who visited Surrey with senior managers and practitioners from Cornwall three times.

The final report from the commissioner has been welcomed by SCC leader Cllr Tim Oliver who said he hoped they would not be getting an “inadequate” report again in the future.

He said: “We have made significant improvements from where we were after two inadequate Ofsted reports to where we are now.

“The main thing is the outcome and safeguarding for children has improved.

“Hopefully things are now getting better. We need to bring these children back into the county and nearer to their homes.

“I very much hope we will not be seeing this [inadequate rating] again in the future.”

Since the May 2018 report, Ofsted inspectors have returned four times for a monitoring visit.

A full Ofsted inspection of the service is expected later this year.