Council makes ‘number of positive changes’ to children’s services after Ofsted rating

An East London borough that was told by Ofsted to improve its children’s services after it was rated ‘requires improvement’ last year has made a number of positive changes, according to the director of children’s care and support at the council.

In July 2023, Barking and Dagenham Council’s children’s services were given the second worst Ofsted rating after inspectors found ‘a lack of decisive intervention’ for some children who had been exposed to long-term neglect and domestic abuse.

Inspectors did see some positives in how children in the borough were looked after and the experiences and progress of care leavers, which is one of the individual areas assessed by Ofsted that was rated ‘good’; however the service was still given an overall rating of ‘requires improvement’ due to a number of issues.

At the time the council blamed the low rating on a ‘rapidly growing’ young population and the impact of the pandemic on its workforce.

Ofsted said eight key areas needed to be improved:

  • The timeliness of strategy meetings
  • The capacity, quality, consistency and impact of supervision and management
  • Assessment and decision-making for children experiencing neglect
  • Timeliness of pre-proceedings pathways
  • Consistency of response to 16 and 17-year-olds who present as homeless
  • Oversight of children’s placements in unregistered children’s homes
  • Application of threshold in early help
  • Life-story work and permanency planning

Following an overview and scrutiny meeting in October 2023, Cllr Glenda Paddle suggested the committee receive ‘intermittent updates’ on the progress of improvements made within children’s services.

During an overview and scrutiny meeting last week (April 17), Cllr Jane Jones, who is cabinet member for children’s social care and disabilities introduced the council’s improvement plan report and said there had been ‘a vast improvement’ in parts of the service.

Cllr Jones said: “We as a service recognise where we needed to improve, so I  receive performance reports on a monthly basis and have seen a vast improvement in reaching and indeed in some areas have succeeded our targets since we were last here six months ago.

“There will always be room for improvements and we will always strive to do the very best we can for our young people in the borough, but in these times of financial restraint improvement it’s never as quick as we would wish it to be.”

She added: “There will always be more that we feel we could do if only we had the resources and were not just relying on the services that we have to provide and not those that we like to provide and the sheer hard work of our staff.”

April Bald, director of children’s care and support at the council, said a number of positive improvements have already happened within the service after going ‘line by line’ through the Ofsted report.

On improvements to assessment and decision-making for children experiencing neglect, Ms Bald said neglect was the ‘biggest issue’ experienced by the borough.

She said: “…children face neglect from often living in poverty and all the other challenges that they face, particularly when there’s a parent with substance misuse, mental health, struggling with domestic abuse or a learning disability.

“This a whole system approach. It can’t just be myself, my staff and social care. It has to be universal with our community agencies as well as our targeted early help.”

Ms Bald went on to say the council department has developed a comprehensive strategy and improvement programme for early help and neglect.

She said: “We’ve laid the foundations but there is work to do and I hope by the time we’re back next time we will be able to provide evidence of actual impact on children through audit, but we are seeing better consistency of practice, we are seeing practitioners understanding neglect and identifying it earlier on.”

Cllr Paddle, who was chairing the meeting, said there is still a lot of work to do but the council is working and moving forward in the right direction.

She asked a question about family hubs, and said: “I’ve had a concern, are we actually attracting the right people to these family hubs who actually need assistance?

“Sometimes you will get people who will go but there are a lot of other [people] that should be attending.

“If that is working, how is it working? How will you encourage those people to effectively be able to find people that really need attending?”

Chris Bush, commissioning director fr care and support at the council responded, and said it was voluntary community sector colleagues who have been the ‘eyes and eyes’ in identifying people who genuinely need support.

He said: “It’s very much still a work in progress but you can be absolutely confident that it’s moving in the direction and something will continue to build.”

After the committee finished asking their questions, Cllr Paddle thanked Ms Bald and Mr Bush for attending and said they would be asked back in around six months.

Ruby Gregory

Local Democracy Reporter