Children’s services in County Durham have been rated Good by Ofsted following a recent inspection.
The inspectors’ report praises those in charge of children’s services at Durham County Council, rating the impact of leaders as Outstanding.
All other areas, including the service’s overall effectiveness, are rated as Good, with the report stating that the council has improved and extended services to children since its last inspection, with “swift and purposeful responses” to areas that were identified for improvement.
The rating follows a three-week inspection in May, during which the Ofsted team looked at all children’s social care services provided by the authority, including safeguarding, children in care, care leavers, fostering and adoption.
Cllr Ted Henderson, Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “We are extremely pleased to have been given a Good rating by the Ofsted inspection team –and are thrilled with the positive feedback they have provided about our services.
“The report not only recognises the quality of the services we provide, but also recognises our work to build around the needs of children and their families. It is important to us that those we support are given the opportunity to have their say on the help they receive, and this was clearly evident to the inspection team.
“We are always looking to improve and build upon our services and this is also recognised in the report, which acknowledges the efforts we have made since the last inspection to provide the best possible support to families.
“The Good rating is a fantastic reflection of the incredibly hard work that goes on across our children’s services and I would like to thank all our staff across the service for their ongoing hard work and commitment.
“We recognise that there is always more to do and are ambitious for the future. We are committed to delivering the very best services for all our children and young people.”
Looking at the experiences of children who need help and protection, the report describes a “proactive culture of working in partnership with families” and “coordinated partnership working”.
Children’s assessments are “detailed and analytical” which, combined with the effective use of family network meetings, leads to “robust and helpful family-led support plans”. Social workers are praised for building trust and “enduring relationships with children and their families”.
The report also acknowledges that there is “creative work to engage with children in order to ensure that their views influence the outcome of assessments and plans”, and that “when risks to children escalate, there is an appropriate level of response to safeguard them”.
The report rates the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers as Good, stating that when children are brought into care because they can no longer safely remain at home, “they are well supported by committed social workers who…build trusting and understanding relationships.”
The majority of children in care are making good progress. They receive “tailored and highly effective support with their emotional needs” and their “aspirations are being recognised and supported”.
Inspectors found that the council’s fostering service “has been strengthened” and that the authority has “widened its pool of adopters through the regional adoption agency”.
The experiences of care leavers are said to be improving through “strong relationships with their young persons advisors”, with care leavers feeling “cared for” and “exceptionally positive” about the care they have received. There is also an “ambitious four-year strategy to improve the lives of care leavers”.
The report notes that improvement is needed with regard to assessments and procedures for care leavers, but recognises that team managers are aware, and plans are already in place to ensure better coordination of the process.
The impact of leaders on social work practice is rated as Outstanding, with the report stating that the authority has a “confident and stable senior leadership team….all of whom have high ambitions for children’s services”.
It says there has been a “relentless focus and deliberate drive to working longer and more intensely with families, in order to achieve real, sustainable change” and that “children remain a high corporate priority”.
The inspectors found that “strategic partnerships are strong” and the “corporate parenting strategy is ambitious” with a “clear commitment to hear from a wide range of children to ensure that their voice is influencing key strategies”.
They also praised the authority’s work to support staff development, highlighting its “impressive leadership academy” and stating that its social work academy is “helping newly qualified social workers develop their confidence at an appropriate pace”.
The inspection team did call for improvements to the process for dealing with children who go missing, stating that responses are not always consistent and return home interviews are sometimes delayed. However, it is recognised that some of these issues were due to a rise in demand.
The report also states that some disabled children are having to wait too long for assessed services to be put in place “due to a lack of specialist providers, including short breaks care”. It is, however, recognised that this problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic.