Darlington children’s services requires improvement to be good, Ofsted has said.
While adoption and experiences of care leavers were rated as ‘good,’ Ofsted deemed that leadership, management and governance, children who need help and protection and looked after children and requiring permanence required improvement to be good.
However, the Ofsted report said: “It has been a considerable achievement for the local authority to have improved the services that were judged to be inadequate at the previous inspection in 2015 while sustaining the quality of those services judged to be good.”
“Leadership and governance in Darlington have markedly improved. Pivotal to this improvement is the dynamic leadership of the director of children’s and adult services and effective political and corporate support, including significant resourcing, for the improvement journey,” it added.
Senior leaders know the services, the quality of social care practice and improvement priorities well and have responded promptly to findings on this inspection. Quality assurance processes have also improved, but require further development to continue to support practice improvement more effectively.
Persistent and wide-ranging approaches have successfully improved workforce stability, capacity and development, particularly during the last six months.
No children have been found in situations of unassessed or unmanaged risk and a relentless focus on compliance has ensured that children are seen promptly and regularly.
However, the quality of practice and management oversight require improvement to be consistently effective. The majority of assessments are too descriptive, are not analytical and do not effectively underpin planning. They are not updated in a timely way and some pre-birth assessments are not completed in time to allow for considered planning and action.
- Child protection conferences and statutory reviews for children looked after are timely.
- Strategic and operational partnership working is generally well developed and effective.
- Strategic priorities are appropriately aligned and responses to children at risk of sexual exploitation and who go missing are effective.
- The council is a committed corporate parent.
- Children who are looked after live in good-quality placements and are well supported to maintain contact with their birth families and to pursue leisure interests.
- The quality of the adoption service for children has been sustained and is good, responsive and timely.
- Good-quality support and outcomes for care leavers have also been sustained, with a high proportion in education, employment and training and most living in safe and suitable accommodation.
Ofsted makes a number of recommendations including to improve and accelerate the focus on quality, improve the quality of assessments and plans and improve the effectiveness of managers’ and IROs’ oversight and challenge to improve the quality of practice.
Darlington should develop and coordinate more timely services for families whose children are on the edge of care, reduce the number of placement moves for children looked after and improve the training, assessment and support offered to foster carers and the quality of short-term placement matching.