‘Serious weaknesses’ in child protection raised in damning report into Sunderland Children’s Services

Councillor Paul Watson
Councillor Paul Watson
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A host of services which work to protect the most vulnerable children across Wearside have been found to be inadequate.

Ofsted has today published a report into Sunderland City Council’s Children’s Services and Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) following an inspection, with Government ministers alerted to the concerns raised.

While the report makes for difficult reading, Ofsted have acknowledged our absolute commitment to improve safeguarding and that we had already begun to take action to address many of the issues they have highlighted.

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council

The report found the council to be inadequate across a range of services including child protection, adoption, and children in care.

The inspection pointed to corporate failure by senior leaders and managers that leaves children and young people potentially at risk.

During the inspection, 21 children’s cases were referred back to the council by inspectors to request that action be taken to ensure children were safe. This is one out of every 10 children’s cases looked at by inspectors.

Following the inspection, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wrote to Secretary of State Nicky Morgan to express his concern over the inspection findings and to recommend remedial action be taken at the earliest opportunity.

A spokesman for Ofsted said: “Today’s report highlights widespread and serious failings in Sunderland City Council’s services for children and young people. As a result, children are potentially at risk of harm.

“Inspectors identified serious weaknesses in basic child protection practice and oversight of services for care leavers, alongside poor leadership at all levels.
“In addition, the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB) is failing in its statutory duty to effectively monitor how well local agencies are safeguarding the welfare of children.

“Such was his concern, Sir Michael wrote to the Secretary of State to highlight the serious weaknesses in care and protection given to vulnerable children in the area, and to request that swift remedial action be taken.”

Serious weaknesses in basic child protection practice in the report include:

High caseloads - meaning that workers are unable to undertake key tasks to provide effective support to children

A high number of unallocated cases where the extent and seriousness of the issues affecting children are not known

Services for children missing from home, care, education or at risk of child sexual exploitation are insufficient and poorly co-ordinated

Particularly poor services for care leavers, which mean that some care leavers are living in unsatisfactory and sometimes unsafe circumstances without adequate help or support.

Sir Michael will also be writing to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to express his concerns over the contribution of Northumbria Police to child protection and safeguarding in Sunderland.

Inspectors found that information sharing between police and children’s services is poor, and that police representatives do not consistently attend core group meetings and child protection conferences.

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of the council, said: “We completely accept the findings of the report and take on board what Ofsted have said.
“While the report makes for difficult reading, Ofsted have acknowledged our absolute commitment to improve safeguarding and that we had already begun to take action to address many of the issues they have highlighted.

“Safeguarding is a very complex and challenging area and in common with other authorities we’ve seen a growing demand on our services in the last few years with a 26 per cent rise in the number of children with child protection plans in the last year and an 18 per cent rise in the number of children in need. The number of looked after children has also risen from 491 to 570.

“We first began work to turn things around last September after commissioning our own review of services which confirmed concerns that had been raised around safeguarding.

“A significant amount of work has been done since then including a root and branch overhaul of our structure, which has affected all levels of management and employees, to address the issues but it’s going to take time for the changes we have made to come to fruition.
“All the evidence available nationally suggests that issues may well continue to emerge as we carry on the work already underway to get back to a position of being good.”