Work to turn around ‘inadequate’ children’s services in Sunderland begins to see results

Sunderland Civic Centre
Sunderland Civic Centre
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Government inspectors say progress is being made to turn around children’s services in Sunderland which were deemed to be failing - but more work must still be done.

A monitoring report has been carried out by Ofsted into the work of the Sunderland City Council’s departments which deal with the most vulnerable youngsters on Wearside.

Councillor Paul Watson.

Councillor Paul Watson.

The visit, which took place early last month, looked at the progress being made in improving services for care leavers, which was one of the areas criticised when a report issued in July last year deemed the service and its safeguarding work inadequate.

Since then, four new directors have been taken on to lead the service, a recruitment campaign has been launched to find 90 new social workers and under Government plans, a trust is being formed to run the service, which will be called Together For Children Sunderland.

During the recent check, inspectors spoke to those who had left care and staff, including social workers, managers and housing providers.

They also examined a range of evidence including electronic case records, supervision records, observation of social work practice, performance data and young people’s case file audit findings.

We know that we’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of work to do before services are where they need to be.

Councillor Paul Watson

In her follow-up letter, inspector Fiona Millns who led the visit, said: “The local authority is making significant progress to improve services for care leavers.”

Among the findings in the report, Ms Millns found: “Senior managers in children’s services responding determinedly to the areas of improvement in relation to care leavers; a sound understanding among senior managers of the key priorities for improvement in services for care leavers; manageable case loads and improved performance management, including data collection and quality auditing and new policies, procedures, documents and accompanying training supporting workers to improve the quality of practice and recording.”

However, she also highlighted areas where scope for improvement remains, including the quality of case recording which is not consistently good; the quality of pathway plans, particularly in terms of chronologies and assessment of need; supervision of social work and personal advisors; management oversight, including challenge from independent reviewing officers (IROs) and care leavers receiving information about their medical histories.

Coun Paul Watson, council leader, said: “The city council has worked very hard since last July’s Ofsted report to transform children’s services, working closely with Nick Whitfield, who was appointed Sunderland’s commissioner for children’s services last July and the Department for Education.

Commissioner for Childrens Services Nick Whitfield

Commissioner for Childrens Services Nick Whitfield

“We know that we’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of work to do before services are where they need to be.
“We won’t be happy until services across the board are in a much better place but it’s heartening to know we are beginning to make inroads in improving the lives of children and young people.”

Mr Whitfield added: I’m pleased to see such a solid start on the improvement journey.
“I believe it gives us a huge amount to build on.”

Alex Hopkins, the new director of the service, said: “There is still much work to be done but I’m pleased that Ofsted have noted that we are making significant progress.

“This was Ofsted’s first monitoring visit since last July’s inspection report and although this time they focussed specifically on services for care leavers I’d like to think the findings are indicative of the progress we are beginning to make more generally.”

The Ofsted letter comes just weeks before the new company set up to steer forward Children’s Services in Sunderland begins operating in shadow form.

The company, which will be responsible for covering education, children’s social care and early help services, becomes an organisation in its own right next April.