Care of vulnerable children in Wiltshire 'must improve'
Wiltshire Council has been told it must improve its care for children at risk of harm or face having the government step in to take over.
Ofsted inspectors said in April the service's monitoring of the safety of vulnerable children was inadequate.
Despite council assurances that things were getting better, the Department of Education has now issued an urgent improvement notice.
The council said it was committed to making the improvements.
The service will face an inspection in December for an initial review of progress made, with the service expected to meet all milestones set by the department by December 2013.
The problems Ofsted found earlier this year centred on the earlier stages of intervention, when vulnerable children are first assessed.
Ofsted had praised the way the council responded so quickly to start to make improvements, immediately putting £500,000 extra into the budget.
Backlog of cases
But that inspection, coupled with figures from May which show delays in getting children placed in care, has led to the improvement notice being issued.
The Department of Education said the council's targets were not strict enough, immediate action was needed to clear a backlog of unallocated cases, and the views of children involved need to be taken into account.
The council must also set up an Improvement Board with an independent chairman and, within one month, agree a plan with that board to improve the performance of the adoption service.
The time the council takes to place a child for adoption also needs to be reduced.
Carolyn Godfrey, the council's director of public services, said they had received a draft version of the notice immediately after the Ofsted inspection and had already begun working on it.
She said the backlog of unallocated cases had been cleared and apologies made for delays.
"The key message is we are responding to their needs, and keeping children safe is our absolute priority," she said.
"We are fully committed to making the improvements we need to make, and our most recent assessment shows we are making progress."
A training programme for all social care staff, recommended in the notice, has also begun.