Children’s services is officially good!
The Ofsted report, praising services, follows a two-week inspection in October, during which the Ofsted team looked at all the children's services we provide, including safeguarding, children in care, care leavers, and fostering and adoption.
The inspectors' report praises all involved in children’s services in Darlington, rating it good overall and highlighted that “the quality of support and care provided to children in care and care leavers is outstanding and they are cared about, listened to, taken seriously, and valued.”
The inspectors praised the progress we have made “to build a child focused service with it providing effective help and protection and care to children and their families across all levels of need, vulnerability, and risk,” and noted that “strong political support, challenge and accountability can be seen at every level, with a cultivating culture of learning and an environment where good social work is thriving with professional, curious, and caring social workers providing detailed assessments of children’s needs.”
Families at the heart of services
Jon Clarke, cabinet member for children and young people said: "We are absolutely delighted children’s services have been rated as Good Overall following a recent Ofsted inspection and are particularly proud that looked after children and care leavers were rated as outstanding – the report was such a great read with so much positive feedback.
“In 2015, Ofsted rated children’s services in Darlington; inadequate, and in 2018, although was rated as requires improvement, was bordering on staying as inadequate, so to be here today, with a rating of Good Overall, and Outstanding in one area, is a phenomenal achievement - bearing in mind we have had a pandemic - which made delivering services extremely challenging.
"We have an amazing team, and this latest report fully recognises the hard work and the change of culture that has been undertaken to ensure that our most vulnerable children and families are always at the very heart of all our work.
“All staff have undoubtably climbed a mountain to achieve such fantastic results and we are continually striving to improve.
“We have such a great network of collaboratively working partners and agencies who all want children to experience the very best of life in Darlington. It is critical to us that the children and families who we support are given the opportunity to have their say on the services that are provided, and I am so pleased that this was recognised by Ofsted inspectors.
“It’s so heart-warming for children leaving care to tell inspectors, that because of being in care, they have been provided with so many opportunities and skills that they will carry with them their entire life.
"I meet regularly with staff and some of the young people who use our services, and time after time, I am blown away by the respect, trust and great working relationships that are formed.
He added: “We recognise that there is always more to do and are ambitious for the future. We are committed to continue to deliver the very best services for all our children and young people to ensure they have the best experiences, grow to be the best version of themselves and aspire to their dreams and plans for their future.
“I would personally like to thank everyone in the children’s services team for the great work that you do - you are all amazing!”
Consistent understanding, a shared focus and trusting relationships
Looking at the experiences of children who need help and protection, the report describes; "consistent understanding and a shared focus of the child’s needs, ensuring children receive the right level of help at the right time" and that "clear, easy to understand, realistic plans are overseen by confident and knowledgeable managers” and that “a strong emphasis is placed on staff building trusting relationships with children, their families and support networks.”
The report acknowledges "social workers complete good quality assessments which informs appropriate services and support delivery” and that "when children need protection, a clear assessment of risk is swiftly put in place, followed by appropriate safeguarding actions,” and praises social workers for “building trusting and enduring relationships with children and their families.”
Children feel listened to, valued, supported and part of a family
The report rates the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers as outstanding, reading; “social workers and managers make well considered decisions for children, giving thought to relationships, identity, sense of belonging and security” and that “children live in stable placements with local foster carers, and most are making very good progress.” It also notes “when carers require support, the fostering service is highly responsive, foster carers feel well supported and have access to high quality training and support.” Inspectors were impressed that “children in care and care leavers participate in activities, attend parenting panel meetings and value being listened to and involved in service development and improvement.”
Care leavers told inspectors they “feel they belong to a family” and were “overwhelmingly positive about the support they receive and feel valued, cared for, and extremely well supported with ambitious pathways and futures.”
The report states “children in care are strongly supported by staff, and the wider community, with plans in place for their future education, employment, or training, as well as them having access to a plethora of accommodation and support to learn to live independently.” It also explains that care leavers actively engage with the dynamic portfolio member and have secured a strong and established relationship with him. The portfolio member is described by staff as ‘working miracles’ in their support for them and for young people.
The touching line “as a result of being in care, care leavers told inspectors they have been provided with so many more opportunities and they will “carry the skills they have learned through their entire life” is especially heartening.
Collaborative working improves life experiences for children
The report states “good social work is thriving through strategic partnerships and strong collaborative relationships within the council, schools, agencies and key partners who share a commitment to improving experiences of children.”
It also includes that “senior leaders are genuinely interested to hear from children and young people, and this ensures their views are being used to develop services and strategies.”
During the inspection the inspectors noted, “many examples were seen where children are benefiting from the support of consistent workers and have developed meaningful relationships with them.”
It was noticed “social workers have secured very positive relationships with families, genuinely want to make a difference for children and are extremely committed to the local authority."
Strong leadership determined to improve outcomes
The report confirms the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is good and that “children’s social care is led by a director of people, who supported by a strong team, understands the vision of the council, and is determined to improve outcomes.”
Inspectors describe the council as an “active, strong, and committed corporate parent”.
Great work, strive to improve
The inspection team did call for improvements to the process for dealing with children who present themselves as homeless and witnessed this during the two-week inspection, with “responsive leaders taking swift action to provide an immediate and much improved response.”
The report also states that due to a rise in demand of services we need to ensure “timely assessments” to ensure children “receive the right intervention at the right time and experience fewer multiple referrals and we need to “fully consider all foster children’s long-term needs post 16” and “provide frequent supervision for our social workers.”
The Ofsted team witnessed and highlighted lots of great work, all which is detailed in a full report you can read on the Ofsted website [external link]