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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 01:01 GMT
Social care 'steadily improving'
A child in care
The report found five councils did not provide good care for children
Social services provided by local councils in England are steadily improving, a report suggests.

Accommodation, education and health provisions for children and adults in council care were investigated by the Commission for Social Care Inspection.

All 150 councils were given star ratings - from zero to three stars.

Tower Hamlets in east London is among 20 with three-stars, while Ealing, Birmingham, Swindon and Cumbria are among eight zero-star authorities.

More councils have been awarded two and three stars than previous years - 102 this year compared with 90 in 2003 and 63 in 2002.

But the number of zeroes remains fairly constant - eight this year and last year and 12 in 2002.

WORST PERFORMERS
Councils awarded zero out of three stars:
Bedfordshire
Birmingham
Cumbria
Ealing
Isles of Scilly
Oldham
Plymouth
Swindon

London boroughs of Waltham Forest and Bromley both improved from zero to one star over the course of 2004.

But they were replaced in the zero-star bracket by the London borough of Ealing and the Isles of Scilly, who both lost their one-star ratings.

The report, the third to give social service departments star ratings, was sent out to each council along with a letter explaining the reasons for their rating.

Services given to adults and children were rated by the commission against a series of performance indicators.

For children looked after by councils, the indicators included the number of days absent from school, number of final warnings, reprimands and convictions, and the cost of foster care.

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Five councils - Bedfordshire, Birmingham, Cumbria, Plymouth and Swindon - were told they are "not serving children well".

All five were given zero-star ratings.

Indicators for adults looked after by councils included the cost of residential and nursing care and the effectiveness of intensive home care.

Only two councils - Bexley and Westminster - received the highest praise for services to both adults and children. Both councils are in the three-star category.

Chief inspector David Behan believes there has been a "genuine improvement" in most councils.

He said performances such as that of Tower Hamlets - promoted from two-star to three-star status - "are to be applauded".

BEST PERFORMERS
Councils awarded three out of three stars:
Bexley
Blackburn with Darwen
Bolton
City of London
Derbyshire
Gateshead
Kensington & Chelsea
Kent
Kingston upon Thames
Kirklees
Knowsley
Leicestershire
Newcastle upon Tyne
North Lincolnshire
Somerset
Southwark
Sunderland
Tower Hamlets
Wandsworth
Westminster

"They have recruited people from their local community and provided a very comprehensive training programme in social work," he said of the east London borough.

Mr Behan added that recruitment and retention of staff was key to providing high levels of social care.

Tower Hamlets councillor Sirajul Islam said his social services team had done "wonderful work".

"If we can do it with our high levels of deprivation, there is no reason why others cannot do it too," he said.

But some councils appear to be "stuck" and others are going backwards, according to the report.

The commission visits under-performing councils every month and can request ministerial intervention if the council fails to improve.

Dame Denise Platt, chair of the commission, said she intends to be "very hard" on under-performing councils.

"We may not be in and out every few minutes, but when we are there discussions will be tough," she said.

Swindon council has already taken the unusual step of commissioning Kent County Council, a three-star performer, to help out with its social care provisions.

Keith Skerman, director of social services at Swindon, said he was confident the council would be "in a position of strength" within a year.

"Turning Swindon social services around was always going to be a long term task which we are determined to see through," he said.

Stephen Ladyman, minister for community, congratulated all of the improving councils.

"Today we should celebrate the improvements in social services and care provided for those who rely on it," he said in a joint statement with Margaret Hodge, minister for children.

But Sandra Gidley, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for older people, said the government needs to stop "hiding behind the smokescreen of star ratings".

She said: "Once again it is easy to see that it's the old and the vulnerable who are being failed by social services."




SEE ALSO:
Report praises care coordinators
20 Oct 04 |  Cornwall
1.9m deficit in social services
21 Jul 04 |  Wiltshire


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