CONCERNS have been raised over new arrangements to protect society’s most vulnerable people.

A Darlington Borough Council meeting has heard new safeguarding arrangements introduced this month would see fewer organisations involved in managing, identifying and promoting the welfare of at risk children and adults.

The authority’s former cabinet member for children Councillor Cyndi Hughes said the changes would see school leaders and voluntary organisations “sidelined” by the new Darlington Safeguarding Partnership, which will see decisions being shaped and made principally by leading police, council and NHS officers. 

The warning comes after figures revealed there had been a significant increase in the number of looked-after children in Darlington and a study by the Social Metrics Commission found evidence of rising levels of hardship in recent years among children, larger families, lone parent households and pensioners.

The new safeguarding partnership arrangements, which Cllr Hughes said would see “wider partners”, such as school leaders included in safeguarding meetings just three times a year, will aim to ensure Darlington is a place where children and adults live safely and will seek assurance that services are coordinated and effective. Documents outlining the new partnership state it will aim “to allow for an environment which allows for constructive challenge and scrutiny”.

Cllr Hughes said the overhaul, which is being introduced differently in neighbouring authorities and has been required by the Children and Social Work Act 2017, focused on compliance and processes rather than the outcomes for vulnerable people and called for families to be central to the revised system. She said: “In Darlington our education partners are crucial in identifying safeguarding issues.

“Having the wider partners included only three times a year is a real downgrading. How is any scrutiny going to happen if they are only meeting three times a year? It really seems in Darlington the governance framework came second and finances came first. It might work and be positive, but at the moment there are too many uncertainties. It seems crazy to reduce the active involvement of partners who have done a great job.”

Her successor as children and young people’s portfolio holder, Councillor Paul Cruddas told the meeting the new safeguarding arrangements had provision for the education and voluntary sectors.