Stable workforce helping looked-after children services improve at ‘inadequate’ council, say inspectors

Children in Darlington are experiencing fewer changes of social worker, Ofsted monitoring report finds

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Reduced staff turnover is driving improvements in practice at an ‘inadequate’-rated local authority, an Ofsted monitoring inspection has found.

At a recent visit to Darlington Council, which was judged ‘inadequate’ in 2015, inspectors found “greatly improved” workforce stability with all social workers and managers in the looked-after and through care teams now permanent.

“Children are experiencing fewer changes in social worker and are better able to develop positive relationships with them,” the monitoring visit report said. “Caseloads are more manageable [and] new technology is supporting agile working. This is helping social workers to focus more on direct work with children and their families.”

Better support and supervision

Inspectors said that senior managers were now more aware of service strengths and were successfully focusing on achieving permanence and reducing drift for children.

“Staff are being better supported to reach the right decision within a timeframe that meets the child’s best interests,” Ofsted said. Inspectors noted that supervisions were now regular and that staff described managers as visible and approachable.

Systems to track children’s progress towards permanence had also been updated and were now being overseen by the head of service and principal solicitor.

“A placement stability strategy has been developed and its implementation is being monitored robustly by the head of service,” the report said. “This is leading to some very early improvement in relation to short- and long-term placement stability and a reduction in the numbers of children living more than 20 miles from their home.”

Timely IRO reviews

Another area of improvement was Darlington’s independent reviewing officer (IRO) service, which was now fully staffed following the appointment of a permanent quality assurance manager.

“Caseloads are well managed, providing IROs with the capacity to fulfil the statutory functions of their role,” said Ofsted. “The service is now achieving 100% compliance in relation to holding timely reviews.”

Inspectors said the IRO service should now place a greater emphasis on ensuring that its scrutiny translates to improved outcomes for children.

The inspectors also said managers must develop a “more robust” self-assessment process and focus on further improving the quality and consistency of practice. Some children’s assessments could be more thorough and care plans did not always have the right focus, they said.

Suzanne Joyner, Darlington’s Director of Children and Adults Services said: “We are delighted with our ongoing progress and we continue to work hard to support our children who are looked after, ensuring they achieve the best possible outcomes.”

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