Darlington’s children’s services are failing to enable social workers to provide a good service, an Ofsted inspection has found.
The inspection report, published today, rated the authority ‘inadequate’, and criticised a “significant failure” of senior leadership.
The watchdog found that, while social workers were committed to children and their families and can provide good services, not all social workers are able to do so because they are in teams with high workloads or a high number of newly qualified social workers.
Unequal distribution of work means that in some teams “too few children are seen in accordance with their child protection plan, reports for child protection conferences are not always timely, the quality of too many child protection plans is poor, and core groups are not always recorded well”.
The report continued: “This means that social workers cannot always be sure that children are making sufficient progress against plans and that risks are reducing.”
Inspectors told the council to distribute workloads more evenly to ensure good social work practice can be done across the service.
Failures in management oversight
Ofsted also found that senior leaders are failing to take effective oversight of – and accountability for – Darlington’s services, and managers at all levels do not have a sufficient grip of frontline practice.
This meant that a “significant number” of children wait too long for their needs to be assessed. Inspectors found 94 assessments had not been completed in the timescales agreed, which left children in situations of unassessed risk.
The quality and timeliness of social work reports prepared for child protection conferences needs to be improved and there needs to be robust management oversight of the single assessment process, the watchdog recommended.
Ada Burns, chief executive of the council, said the council will immediately recruit an additional practice supervisor to strengthen the supervision and support to social workers, and set up an improvement board:
“Although we are disappointed by the judgement of ‘inadequate’, particularly as work was already underway to address many of the issues highlighted by Ofsted, we accept the detail of the report and will implement its recommendations,” Burns said.
Good outcomes for care leavers
The adoption performance and experiences of care leavers were both rated as good, and Burns said the council is proud of what it achieves with vulnerable young people.
“Our children have good outcomes when they leave care and 67% of our care leavers are in education, employment and training, well above the national rate of 45%. All children identified as needing a child in need or child protection plan have one,” Burns said.