AN extra £4.2 million is due to be spent on children’s services in County Durham to increase the number of social workers following an inspection which found improvements needed to be made.

It is one of a number of steps being taken to improve the service provided by Durham County Council following an inspection by Ofsted last year, which found the department must do more to help children at risk of neglect.

During the inspection, which took place in February and March last year, Ofsted said staff shortages meant social workers were unable to take on new cases and in some cases children had not been able to establish enduring relationships because of too many changes.

Since then, the authority has been working to improve its turnover of staff, has refreshed its recruitment strategy to try and attract experienced social workers, has introduced a social work academy to support newly qualified employees and is developing an apprentice programme.

Cllr Ossie Johnson, Durham County Council’s portfolio holder for children and young people’s services, said: “Significant progress has been made in the last year to the point where we are recruiting more and more social workers and where our focus on quality of practice has seen us afforded national recognition.

“However we recognise there is still room for improvement and we will continue to work steadfastly to improve the lives of our children and young people.”

The council has added £4.2 million to its budget to pay for care placements and extra social workers.

In 2016, 17 new social workers were recruited, with 12 new qualifiers working in the new academy and a further 24 working in teams.

Margaret Whellans, interim corporate director of children and young people’s services, is due to present a progress report at next week’s cabinet meeting.

Other measures include introducing a new system for social care records, and has revising standards to try and improve the quality of practice.

Nine of the council’s ten children’s homes were inspected last year, with seven rated as good and one in Moorside, near Consett, as requiring improvement.

One in Newton Drive, Durham was rated outstanding while West Rainton, which was rated outstanding in December 2015, won a national award.

The council is also working on a “transformation programme” which is aimed at redesigning services to reduce costs and prioritise front line funding.

The council needs to save more than £37 million in the next financial year, and an estimated £64.1m by 2020, which means in just under a decade it will have slashed £245 million from the budget.