07 July 2014

Two independent assessments of Northamptonshire’s improvement programme for children’s services have concluded that Northamptonshire County Council is making steady progress in priority areas.

What did the assessments say?

The independent chair of the county’s improvement board, Christine Davies, has written to children’s minister Edward Timpson in her second quarterly progress report.

She states that “despite the depth and extent of Northamptonshire’s challenges, real progress has been made against all three of the [Improvement] Plan’s priorities.”

The letter outlines measures that have been taken by the council against a backdrop of a 40 per cent increase in safeguarding referrals to the council.

In her letter, Mrs Davies cautions that the council’s “relentless determination and focus will need to be maintained before the council’s services can be viewed as consistently adequate or good.”

In addition, the findings of a Department of Education progress review inspection point to the council making “good and steady progress in a number of priority areas, in particular strengthening the Leadership team, improving communications and visibility of the senior management team, and the creation of the MASH [multi-agency safeguarding hub]”.

It also confirms that the review team saw evidence of effective progress in line with what is expected by government at this point in the improvement programme.

What happens next?

Councillor Heather Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, said: “The feedback from both the chair of the improvement board and the progress review is encouraging. We are in a much better place now than we were this time last year and I’m confident that children are safer now in Northamptonshire than they were a year ago.

“One of our biggest challenges remains the high level of agency staff. We have to address the national shortage of experienced social workers and one way we’re doing that is with the creation of a Social Work Academy.

“This will allow us to handpick the most committed and enthusiastic social work students and put them through a year-long intensive training and support programme. At the end of the year, they’ll have the skills and confidence to work alongside our existing social workers

“We also need to make sure that we get the right support to the right families at the right time. We’ll do this by strengthening our early help services. We recently awarded contracts for Children’s Centres services and that’s a key element of ensuring that families are given support before their problems escalate.”

Both reports form part of a cabinet report to be discussed at a meeting of the council’s cabinet next week.

The council was issued with a Statutory Direction by the Department for Education in October 2013, requiring the establishment of an Improvement Board with an independent chair to assess and challenge the improvement programme and report back to government