More social workers needed to help improve childrens services in Sunderland, inspectors say

Sunderland Civic Centre
Sunderland Civic Centre

Work to improve childrens services in Sunderland is showing ‘sustained progress’ according to watchdogs - but more needs to be done to recruit permanent social workers in the city.

Together for Children was the company formed to take over the running of childrens services on Wearside earlier this year after they were branded inadequate back in July 2015.

Alex Hopkins, chief executive of Together for Children.

Alex Hopkins, chief executive of Together for Children.

Last month, Ofsted made its first monitoring visit to the new company and inspectors said they “continued to see progress in practice and performance”.

However, they also said a need to recruit more social workers remains and that staff turnover poses “a significant challenge to maintaining consistent oversight and direction”.

To address the matter, Together for Children has recruited eight additional permanent social workers and five new managers, while another 18 newly qualified social workers are due to start work in September and a recruitment campaign is ongoing.

Inspectors added: “The clear and well-focused recruitment and retention strategy has clear objectives to meet recruitment targets, retrain staff and minimise risk to children during periods of change.”

I am under no illusion that we still have a lot further to go in improving services for the children and young people we work with

Coun Louise Farthing

The inspection was the fourth monitoring visit to Sunderland since the inadequate rating two years ago.

In her follow up letter, Fiona Millns, who led the inspection team, said: “Overall Together for Children are making sustained progress in their improvement of services to children and families.”

“There is a clear vision in Sunderland for the delivery of children’s services through the recently established company. The new arrangements are supported by strong governance and backing from the local authority and partners. Performance management and quality assurance processes are increasingly effective in driving improvement in services and there has been sustained progress.”

Alex Hopkins, Chief Executive of Together for Children, said: “It is encouraging that Ofsted have recognised the progress we have made in their visit, which came just two months after the new company was officially launched.

“While there remains much to be done as we continue on our improvement journey, the findings from this visit make for another important step forward.”

Coun aul Watson, the Leader of Sunderland City Council, added: “We’re pleased that following this latest visit, Ofsted have concluded that in partnership with Together for Children we are continuing to make steady progress.

“There is still much to do to get services to the level our children and young people deserve but we are continuing to work hard to achieve this and are confident that we are on the right track for future improvements.”

During their visit, inspectors spoke to social workers and managers from the new company. They also met with the chair of Together for Children, elected members and the chief executive of Sunderland City Council, plus the chair of the local safeguarding children board.

Coun Louise Farthing, Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services, said: “We have seen some significant progress since the Ofsted report in July 2015, but I am under no illusion that we still have a lot further to go in improving services for the children and young people we work with. Everyone at the new company and the Council is firmly committed to continuing our improvement.”

Deborah Jenkins, chair of the Together for Children board, added: “I’m pleased to see our progress to date recognised in this latest Ofsted visit. The efforts of staff from across the new company, who are working hard to improve life chances of children and young people across the city, must be appreciated as they continue to work hard to engage with partners and improve the service we offer.”

Councillor Louise Farthing, Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services, said: “We have seen some significant progress since the Ofsted report in July 2015, but I am under no illusion that we still have a lot further to go in improving services for the children and young people we work with. Everyone at the new company and the council is firmly committed to continuing our improvement.”

Deborah Jenkins, chair of the Together for Children board, added: “I’m pleased to see our progress to date recognised in this latest Ofsted visit.

“The efforts of staff from across the new company, who are working hard to improve life chances of children and young people across the city, must be appreciated as they continue to work hard to engage with partners and improve the service we offer.”