Cumbria ordered to address children’s social care failings

Council must undergo independent scrutiny and improve services for looked-after children, care leavers and permanency planning

Cumbria council has been ordered to appoint an independent chair to oversee its children’s services amid continuing concerns over poor performance.

The government has told the council, which received an inadequate judgment in May from Ofsted, to appoint Claire Burgess as chair of the Cumbria Children’s Services Improvement Board. She has worked in various local government improvement roles in the past few years, including in the Local Government Association’s Children’s Leadership Academy.

The council must also put together a “robust improvement plan” which includes “clear and specific actions” aimed at improving the quality of services for looked-after children, permanency planning (including adoption services), and services for care leavers.

Other areas for action include delivering an effective independent reviewing officer (IRO) service which meets statutory requirements, and ensuring there is a “consistent understanding and application of thresholds for children’s social care”.

The Local Government Association is also to be commissioned to undertake a diagnostic assessment of services for looked-after children, which is to be completed by 31 December and shared with the Department for Education.

The Ofsted report highlighted a number of areas of concern, including that too many looked-after children had experienced “unacceptable drift in decision-making and delay in the progress of their plans”; “weak” management oversight across all areas of work; and that the IRO service was “not effectively championing the needs of looked after children”.

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