Too many young children 'drifting' in care, inspectors tell council

Barking Town Hall

Ofsted wrote to Barking and Dagenham Council with its findings - Credit: Ken Mears

Too many young children are "drifting" in care in Barking and Dagenham, inspectors have said.

Ofsted has written to Barking and Dagenham Council after paying a focused visit to the borough's children's services last month.

It found that the authority is facing unprecedented service demand, with a  record number of children on protection plans and 2,000 more referrals to social care than this time last year.

But inspector Brenda McLaughlin wrote that although permanence planning for children is starting to improve, practice is "too variable".

She said: "Increased levels of demand in an already very challenging
local environment have affected the quality of services for some vulnerable children.

"Leaders accept that despite their commitment to improvement, and high aspirations, the pace of change needs to accelerate."

The education regulator found that some children are facing significant delays due to hold-ups in finding parallel families.

"Too many very young children live in children’s homes that do not meet
their long-term needs for stability. These children are drifting in care."

But inspectors recognised that council leaders are acting to address these concerns and also understand that recruiting and retaining more skilled foster carers is key to improving services.

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Councillor Jane Jones, cabinet member for children’s social care and disabilities, said: “Our children’s social care is under significant pressure due to the levels of poverty and related deprivation experienced by many residents. Unemployment is the highest in the country and this has not been helped by the latent demand from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“However, we also do agree that improvements still need to be made and we will continue to work hard to ensure these are made.”

Inspectors also praised managers in the family support and safeguarding service and the multidisciplinary pre-birth teams for their work to help and protect children.

Ms McLaughlin wrote: "Staff in these teams work hard to understand parental and family histories and cultures, as well as the impact on parents of mental illness, domestic abuse, substance addiction and insecure housing."

Ofsted also found social workers "spoke affectionately and with great pride" about their children's progress.

"Staff’s enthusiasm and determination to do the right thing are palpable and consequently many children are making progress in care supported by highly committed professionals and foster carers."

Ms McLaughlin said it would take the findings into account when planning its next inspection or visit.

Ofsted did not give a rating at this inspection, with the overall effectiveness of Barking and Dagenham's children's social care services rated requires improvement in 2019.