Good progress has been made in improving services for looked-after children in Darlington, a monitoring visit has revealed.
In the fifth monitoring visit since the authority was rated inadequate in September 2015, Ofsted inspectors found a more stable workforce, compliance with statutory requirements has been achieved and the IRO service had been strengthened.
“New and improved systems track children’s progress from when they become looked after. Improved focus on permanence by the child’s second review is beginning to reduce drift and delay,” said inspectors. “As a short-term measure, children are now being accommodated appropriately under Section 20.”
The report highlights:
- Senior managers show improved understanding and prioritisation of service strengths and areas for development.
- Staff are being better supported to reach the right decision within a timeframe that meets the child’s best interests.
- A placement stability strategy has been developed and its implementation is being monitored robustly by the head of service.
- All social workers and managers in the LATC are now permanent. There is a high level of engagement by senior managers with social work teams.
- Caseloads are more manageable and have reduced on average to 18.
- New technology is supporting agile working and this is helping social workers to focus more on direct work with children and their families.
- A more stable workforce has resulted in improved compliance.
- Social workers and their managers are now receiving regular supervision.
Now that statutory requirements have been complied with, managers need to develop a more robust self-assessment process and improve focus on the quality and consistency of practice. Inspectors found that children’s specific needs and circumstances are not always thoroughly explored during their assessment.
Some assessments lack multi-agency input. Research is not used enough to inform evidence-based analysis about the best plan for the child. This means that care plans are not always focused on the right things or by the right professionals, inspectors warned.
“More emphasis now needs to be placed on ensuring that the impact of their scrutiny results in improved outcomes for children,” the report concluded.