A good children’s service requires chief executives to strike a balance between trusting their staff and monitoring them, the SOLACE spokesperson for children and families advised today.
Speaking at The MJ Future Forum North, Merran McRae said: ‘You have to trust your director of children's services (DCS). But equally you have to keep asking them questions.
‘How do you manage to do this without micromanaging is the challenge.’
She also stressed how important it is for chief exectuvies to appoint a permanent DCS and not to settle for a string of interims, because their different styles of working will eventually impact the quality of the service.
Ms McRae added that in order to ensure the service meets standards, it is essential that chief executives meet external partners, like the police, to get feedback about the service.
She said: ‘What are partners saying about the children’s services in your area – is there some truth to it or is it just noise in the system?
‘Go out and talk to partners and find out for yourself.
‘If there’s lots of chuntering, chances are that there is something going on and you do have to find out.’
Ms McRae said it was equally important for chief executives and officers to ensure that councillors are on board any improvement programme.
She said that the service cannot be improved if council members are not convinced of its importance and contributing in whatever way they can.
Ms McRae also listed a few warning signs that show children's services are poor, including not being able to explain what model is being used.
She said it should be thoroughly understood by all the staff: ‘It almost doesn’t matter what your model is, but you need to know what it is.
‘If you speak to your DCS [and they can’t really explain it] then it’s not an embedded system.’
Other indiciators that the service is not functioning properly include having the same children referred to the system more than once, children not having permanency but ‘drifting around in the system’, and if looked after children are under-achieving compared to other children in the area.