Call for Sunderland children’s services boss to quit over ‘widespread and serious failures’ in child protection

Sunderland Civic Centre.
Sunderland Civic Centre.
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The woman responsible for children’s services in Sunderland should consider her position, says a top Tory.

Ofsted inspectors say there were “widespread and serious failures” following a three-week visit that found child protection, adoption, and children in care services were inadequate.

Pat Smith.

Pat Smith.

But, despite the findings, no one has been dismissed from their post or held to account for the mismanagement of those who are responsible for the most vulnerable youngsters across Wearside.

The report states there was a “corporate failure” and said “children are potentially at risk from harm”.

It added: “Senior managers and elected members, including at the very highest levels in the council, have not ensured that children and young people receive services that keep them safe.”

It goes on to say those officials have not asked the right questions, undertaken the right activities or have an understanding the frontline work to put in place improvements.

I think the portfolio holder for children’s services Pat Smith should really consider her position. It’s critical children’s services has an able leadership.

This has led to “deep inadequacies” in services which protect the most vulnerable children.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw is also set to write to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary over concerns about Northumbria Police’s child protection and safeguarding work.

Councillor Peter Wood, leader of the Conservative members on the council, has said Coun Pat Smith, the cabinet member for children’s services, should stand down.

Coun Wood said he was satisfied changes at an officer level are already having an impact, but added: “I think the portfolio holder for children’s services Pat Smith should really consider her position.

Peter Wood.

Peter Wood.

“It’s critical children’s services has an able leadership.

“I can’t think of anything more important in terms of responsibilities and duties of the council than that.”

He added: “It seems to be to be a pretty damning report on children’s services in the city. What it’s saying is the council isn’t ensuring that children and young people who are the responsibility of these services are kept safe.

Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said: “The Ofsted report showing that children’s services in Sunderland are inadequate is very worrying and its findings are unacceptable.

“I am heartened, however, by the fact the council seem to have taken on board Ofsted’s recommendations and have started to act to improve safeguarding standards in Sunderland.

“The children and young people of our city should not be in this position.

“We now need to look forward to ensure that safeguarding and the care of vulnerable children is brought up to an acceptable standard as a matter of urgency.”
Council leader Paul Watson has said he will personally monitor the progress of the departments, with it likely the council will overhaul the portfolio as part of changes.

They include launching a backlog team to help monitor workloads.

Coun Watson said while no one has been sacked, some have “left or retired” with new managers brought in to carry out an overhaul and bring it back up to standard.

“I don’t think anybody was made to leave. 
 “Certain people may have looked at themselves and said they weren’t the people or necessarily the ones to make it good in 2017/18,” he explained.

A year ago, the head of safeguarding and assistant head of the department were granted early retirement, while last year five social workers were sacked following concerns about their conduct.

The council has said difficulties in recruiting social workers and better pay through agencies has also had an impact, but says upping wages for its staff would cause problems for neighbouring authorities.

It has said changes are already in place following an internal review, but they did not have the chance to take effect by the time Ofsted made its visit in May.

Unison believes the Government should be held to account in the light of £170million of cuts.

It has also highlighted staff shortages caused by redundancies, and recruitment issues, which has seen efforts to recruit from the US.

John McDade, regional organiser for the union, said: “You cannot keep taking water out of the well and then be surprised when it runs dry.

“The Government cannot step back and say ‘this is nothing to do with us’.”