Sunderland’s children’s services to become trust as Prime Minister acts on failures

Sunderland Civic Centre.
Sunderland Civic Centre.
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Wearside’s under fire children’s services will be taken over under plans announced by David Cameron.

The Prime Minister has said those services deemed to be putting the lives of young people at risk will be handed over to other councils and charities to run.

Prime Minister David Cameron.

Prime Minister David Cameron.

Powers to trigger emergency inspections of social services departments following complaints from whistle-blowers or evidence of poor leadership are also set to be bolstered under the reforms.

As part of the announcement, it has been said experts will immediately be sent in to run Sunderland City Council’s unit after inspectors found “serious and widespread” failings and other local authorities in England will follow.

The changes will see it become a voluntary trust.

Council leader Paul Watson said the authority has made significant progress and “by working closely with the people appointed we will achieve the jointly desired outcomes in the shortest possible time and in the most effective manner possible”.

We will not stand by while children are let down by inadequate social services.

David Cameron

In July, Ofsted inspectors announced the department and the city’s Local Safeguarding Board were inadequate.

Its managers and senior councillors were singled out for criticism, with services for care leavers and poorly managed support for children at risk of sexual exploitation also highlighted.

The scale of the problems were revealed in serious case reviews released late last month, which revealed opportunities were missed to support families of two baby girls.

One died after she was found drowning in the bath, while another was seriously injured by her father, who had a history of violence.

Since the checks, a series of senior managers have left and new bosses drafted in, with commissioner Nick Whitfield sent to work with the council.

Plans for improvements also include the recruitment of 90 new social workers and a cash injection of £6million into the department.

Mr Cameron said: “Children’s services support the most vulnerable children in our society.

“They are in our care; we, the state, are their parents; and we are failing them.

“It is our duty to put this right; to say poorly performing local authorities: improve, or be taken over.
“We will not stand by while children are let down by inadequate social services.

“This will be one of the big landmark reforms of this Parliament, as transformative as what we did in education in the last.”

Local authority departments judged inadequate by Ofsted will have six months to improve or they will be taken over in a system that mirrors Government reforms to tackle failing schools.

Top performing councils, experts in child protection and charities will be sent to run the worst units and will have the power to oust members of staff.

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council said: “Sunderland City Council is entirely at one with the Prime Minister in his desire to achieve the best possible outcomes for all our children.

“To this end we have been working closely with his appointed Commissioner, Nick Whitfield, since the July Ofsted report referred to by the PM.

“Together we have made significant progress as reported to the Secretary for State and the emerging solution is developing well and could be called a trust or be a similar entity.

“We believe that by working closely with the people appointed we will achieve the jointly desired outcomes in the shortest possible time and in the most effective manner possible.”