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ISLINGTON SOCIAL SERVICES ENCOURAGED TO BUILD ON ITS IMPROVEMENTS

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Some but not all people in Islington are well served by social services and prospects for future improvements are p...
Some but not all people in Islington are well served by social services and prospects for future improvements are promising, according to a report published today by the Audit Commission and Social Services Inspectorate.

Islington's social services have had a poor legacy, according to the report, and there is still much to achieve across many service areas. However, rapid progress has been made in recent years, with the authority responding quickly and effectively to resolve service weaknesses.

Inherited budget deficits have been tackled, services for children and families are improving and evidence of some excellent partnership working with other agencies was found by reviewers. In addition, significant changes are being made to services for adults, which will ensure better outcomes for users and carers.

Although these improvements are commended, the report emphasises that much work still needs to be done if consistently good standards are to be achieved. For example, both care management and direct care services in Islington need continued attention, so that good practice becomes more widespread. Progress has been made in developing strategies for older people and mental health service users, but beneficial change in some other areas has been slower to materialise.

The report, part of a rolling programme of reviews to assess the performance of individual social services departments in England and Wales, concludes that Islington needs to capitalise on its progress and make sure improvements are maintained and consolidated in the future. In this respect, it is encouraging that the authority has clearly identified what needs to be done and has established a recent track record in delivering improvements.

Specifically, the report says

-- Priority has been given to reducing the very high numbers of children looked after and on the child protection register

-- Islington has a clear vision and progress is being made in translating this into explicit and shared joint strategies

-- Integrated teams to support older people and other adults are developing well - but there is scope for further improvement

-- Data and performance indicators are now much more reliable than in the past

-- Care management for older people and adults with physical disabilities needs to be carried out to a consistent standard

-- There are outstanding weaknesses to be tackled in support services - finance, personnel and staff development and property and information management

The reviewers acknowledge that most of the outstanding service weaknesses have already been identified by Islington, but recommend more work be done to get results. To help Islington focus on its drive for further improvement, the reviewers have put together a set of priorities for action. They include:

-- Continue to develop service and commissioning strategies for all care groups

-- Develop support services which promote and enhance good management

-- Build upon recent success, so that improved services are available to a wider group of local people

-- Improve customer care, and achieve consistency across social work services

-- Address the outstanding gaps and service weaknesses for specific groups of people

The joint review team also inspected the council's best value reviews of the following services and awarded a rating to each one:

-- Occupational therapy and physical disability services - fair, one star service that will probably improve

Delays in the provision of occupational therapy assessments have reduced. However services for younger adults with physical disabilities have been traditional and need further modernisation and improvement.

-- Family finding, family placements and residential care for looked after children and young people - poor, no star service, but is going to improve

Very considerable progress is being made in refocusing services for looked after children and improving the placements service. However the number of looked after children continues to be high. Islington needs to sustain its work to support families, prevent family breakdowns and promote better outcomes for children and young people.

-- Social services transport - poor, one star service, unlikely to improve

This review would have benefited from a more robust exploration of different aspects of social services transport.

-- Adult care management service - fair, one star service that will probably improve

The authority is making progress in developing integrated teams but needs to continue to work on customer care and consistency in assessment and care management.

-- Daycare services for older people - fair, one star daycare service, will probably improve

The authority has listened to users and achieved a major change in the delivery of day care services but needs to continue to focus on the costs of provision and how it targets its resources.

Director of joint reviews John Bolton, said:

'Islington has made encouraging progress since its reorganisation in April 1998. Budget deficits are being tackled, a clear vision for services has been laid down, users and their needs are a constant priority and the organisation has become much better at managing its performance.

'The council should not lose sight of the fact that further improvements are required, to guarantee first class services for users and carers. Sustained commitment will be needed to see through the planned programme of change.'

A press release from Islington LBC follows:

Getting Better All the Time

The 'extent of recent change' in Islington social services 'represents a very significant achievement' say government watchdogs the Audit Commission and the Social Services Inspectorate.

Following the joint review they carried out last year their report also identifies the people in Islington who are well served by social services and that prospects for services to continue to improve in the future are promising.

Douglas Taylor, chair of social services says: 'We have achieved much over the past two years and it is good to see this work has been recognised by our users, partners and the joint review team. We appreciate the review team's positive findings that Islington is getting better, their recognition of areas of good practice and their support for our ambitious programme of improvements for the future.'

Strengths highlighted in the report include:

* the improvement of services for families and children, particularly in assessment, care planning and reducing the very high numbers of looked after children on the child protection register

* support for older people by working in partnership with the Health service and developing integrated care teams

* enabling service-users and carers to have a more powerful voice by improving the consultation and decision-making process about future services

* progress in tackling issues associated with the ethnic diversity of the local community

* rapid response to prevent hospital admissions provided by the Integrated Primary Care Team

* an excellent service for people aged 18 to 64 when they are experiencing a mental health crisis provided by the boroughs' two Crisis Resolution Teams

* competence at self-assessment - there is good evidence that social services responds well to external scrutiny and is using Best Value reviews to drive change and create better outcomes for service users and carers.

Part of a country-wide assessment of social services, the joint review process consults service users, carers and other interested organisations. Its aim is not only to highlight areas where Islington social services is performing well, but to indicate where improvements can be made so all service users receive the same high standards of care.

The report acknowledges Islington's legacy of poor services and that there is still much to do. However it says that the council is 'competent at self assessment' and demonstrates an 'ability to respond quickly and effectively to address service weaknesses.'

The report also says that Islington has set itself an 'ambitious' agenda for change. And that 'the service aims to move from being a high volume and high cost provider to offering well-targeted care services giving value for money and better outcomes for those who use them.'

An action plan has been drawn up in response to the review team's findings and in recognition of the work that still needs to be done. It aims to ensure that all Islington people who need social services help receive a consistently good service. This reinforces the council's commitment to putting people first and aims to continue the improvement of services year on year. The plan includes:

* increasing involvement and participation of users and carers in shaping services

* open a borough-wide information and access service for older people and people with disabilities

* cutting waiting times for assessments and services

* more control for people with disabilities by extending the use of direct payments and maximising access to the Independent Living Fund

* continue to develop the Low Vision Clinic in partnership with the RNIB and Camden social services. This new assessment and rehabilitation service will provide a one

* set up a new service for troubled teenagers with partners involved in the Safe in the City project

* ensuring children at risk are properly protected by recruiting and retaining more social work staff.

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