Highland and East Dunbartonshire have become the first authorities to have their child protection services (CPSs) inspected.
The pilot inspections by HMIE are the first in a Scotland-wide review due to begin after the summer, following recommendations from the child protection audit and review in 2002. All 32 authorities are due to have their child protection services inspected by 2008, around 10 each year.
"This could be the forerunner to integrated inspections of children's services; it would make sense," Bill Alexander, head of children's services in Highland, said. The authority volunteered to take part.
The inspection comes just two years after Highland overhauled its approach, following the death of five-year-old Danielle Reid, murdered by her mother's boyfriend and dumped in the Caledonian canal in Inverness in a suitcase.
An independent review into her death by Dr Jean Herbison, a consultant paediatrician at Yorkhill Hospital in Glasgow, commissioned in June 2003 by Highland's child protection committee, is due to published next month. Dr Herbison stated in June: "There is little doubt that the violent death of this five-year-old girl was not preventable by any of the agencies concerned."
The authority has welcomed both her comments and the HMIE report, which commended Highland on its service. Among key strengths highlighted by the inspectors were good communication and trust between professionals, including teachers, and children and young people; and joint working among professionals.
But they recommended that children and young people need to be more involved in decision-making and in policy development; that there should be wider shared responsibility for child protection and child welfare work, within and between agencies; and that evaluation of the service's effectiveness should be more consistent.
Describing the work of the 11 inspectors who descended on Highland for three weeks between January and March, Mr Alexander said: "The inspection was comprehensive, rigorous and robust. It was very thorough, but also sensitively done and proportional."
East Dunbartonshire, which was inspected during January and February, also received a favourable report, identifying its good service and effective planning; support given to families at risk; and the progress made towards better joint working at strategic and operational levels.
However, inspectors felt the authority needed to take action to improve arrangements for initial assessment; to share information more effectively; to increase the range and accessibility of services; and to implement a planned review and improvements which had previously been identified .
"We are regarded as an improving authority, driving the integrated children's services model, and we wanted to be involved in this inspection process," David Anderson, the council's strategic director with responsibility for education, said. "We saw it as a learning opportunity."
Like Highland, East Dunbartonshire will continue to work with inspectors to identify and develop an action plan.