FURTHER action is required to improve a local authority's children's social care service, 12 months after coming up with a plan bring it up to scratch.

It is now a year since Durham County Council produced an "Ofsted action plan" to make improvements to its children and young people's services, which were rated as requiring improvement by the watchdog following an inspection in February and March last year.

Of the 14 recommendations made by Ofsted, four have been given a "green" rating, using a traffic light rating system, while the remaining ten have been given an "amber" one.

Loading article content

A "one year on" report, due to be discussed by members of the council's cabinet next week, says good progress has been made in most areas but adds that the quality of case recording is not yet at the required level, and social workers are still dealing with higher than desired case loads with increasing demand for services.

Since June 2016 the number of open cases dealt with by local authority social workers has increased by 383, while the number of looked after children has risen from 715 to 800.

The council has invested £1.38m in its budget for the service, which has resulted in the the creation of a new team in Easington, four extra positions in the child protection service and six in the 'looked after' service, as well as number of new roles.

Each social worker is meant to have no more than 20 cases but 57 per cent of staff still have more than the desired number.

However, the number with more than 30 cases has decreased from 17 per cent to six per cent since the Ofsted inspection, with 32 per cent having between 20 and 24 cases.

To deal with a shortage in staffing, the council created a Social Work Academy and plans to expand that to fill vacant posts

Vacancies for social workers remained at around 35 or 36 from November 2016 to April 2017, but in May dropped to a low of 28.

The report adds that 61 per cent of casework is now graded good or better – a 21 per cent increase – with expectations that it will reach 80 to 100 per cent by March 2018 and 90 to 100 per cent by the following year.

Some targets, which were due to have been reached by last March, have had to be extended to March 2018.

Cllr Olwyn Gunn, Cabinet member for children and young people, said: “We put the interests of our children and young people at the heart of everything we do and it is really pleasing to note the continuing improvements that are being made across our services for them.

“We really are making good progress in addressing the recommendations made by our partners at Ofsted with all identified actions either implemented or in progress.

“It is particularly pleasing to see the increased staffing levels in social services and the commitment to filling vacancies which should all contribute to further reducing caseloads of existing staff.

“Despite these positive developments, we all recognise there is still room for improvements and our children and young people and their families can be assured we are committing to getting better.”