Birmingham social services staff celebrated with an early Christmas party last night after the announcement that the council-run department is no longer ranked among the worst in the country.
Cabinet member Sue Anderson ordered social workers and other officials to let their hair down after being told that the city's caring services had been awarded a one-star ranking by the Commission for Social Care Inspection.
The decision means that Birmingham has finally managed to lift the £400 million department away from the Government's "failing" tag, which it has held for five years.
CSCI inspectors decided that, for the first time, the council was serving some adults and children well and had promising prospects for the future.
However, Coun Anderson and Peter Hay, the strategic director of social care and health, were quick to warn against complacency.
A one-star CSCI rating is second from the bottom of a sliding scale that runs from no-star to three-star.
It is the minimum standard that a council must achieve to demonstrate that social care is working reasonably well.
Mr Hay said the big challenge was to move to a two-star rating, denoting that Birmingham was serving most people well. This could be achieved within two years, he believed.
The CSCI inspection found improvement in both adult and children's social services.
Achievements listed by the inspectorate included reduced admissions of elderly people to residential care, improved services for carers, better management of delayed discharges from hospital and progress in promoting independence and choice.
Child protection practices had improved and there were better support services for children in care.
The inspectors also praised the strategic lead given by councillors and senior managers.
However, services for children and adults with learning disabilities were found to be in need of improvement as were preventative services to support elderly people in their
own homes. Mr Hay said: "There was always a danger that reaching one-star would be seen as good enough. That is a trap we are determined not to fall into.
"We intend to continue with the same hunger for change and energy that we have displayed over the past year or so. Getting to a two-star rating has to be within our grasp."
Coun Anderson (Lib Dem Sheldon) promised to drive forward improvement, particularly in providing accommodation and care for elderly people. The council is beginning the process of replacing old people's homes which do not meet Government standards with new sheltered and extra-care homes.
Coun Anderson added: "Credit must go to the staff who have worked tremendously hard to get this far. But the good work doesn't stop at the end of the inspection."
The turnaround in a little over a year has been remarkable. CSCI inspectors warned after a visit in the summer of 2004 that Birmingham social services was so poor that the department might have to be run directly by the Department of Health. An inspection found that no children were being served well by the council and basic checks on children at risk were not being undertaken.
Previous inspections showed that some children on the at-risk register did not have access to a social worker.
Council leaders are putting the improvement down to: £30 million awarded to the social services budget, a shake-out of senior staff and closer working with the NHS and voluntary organisations.
Coun Anderson added: "We want to concentrate on building partnerships to make sure elderly people are in good health, remain active and get more out of their lives."