‘Inadequate’ Sunderland children’s services make ‘limited’ progress

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Children’s services chiefs in Sunderland have insisted they have a ‘plan that’s working’ – despite another critical assessment by Ofsted.

In July, inspectors from the government watchdog branded the city department ‘Inadequate’ for the second time in three years.

And following a visit early this year, the verdict of officials is that despite some “limited” improvements at Together for Children, the organisation set up to run children’s services on behalf of Sunderland City Council, there is still plenty of work to be done.

According to the report, which was published Thursday, February 7: “The quality of the immediate social work response to children and families when requests are made for support remains inconsistent.”

It added: “Too many children’s cases are referred which do not meet the criteria for statutory involvement.

“This results in social workers spending too much time trying to gather information where families do not need this level of support.”

Inspectors blamed a ‘lack of understanding by partner agencies’ for adding to social workers’ workload.

And they singled out Northumbria Police for criticism, accusing the force of a ‘lack of essential information’ in its referrals to the service.

Children’s services bosses were criticised for failing to address poor work practices.

But there was also praise for recruiting permanent staff and reducing the reliance of agency workers, as well as for the speed they responded to cases.

Following a damning Ofsted inspection in 2015, which first branded children’s services in Sunderland ‘Inadequate’, responsibility for the service was handed to Together for Children (TfC), a new organisation created to take on the role.

Jill Colbert, TfC’s chief executive, said: “We are fully committed to supporting vulnerable children and young people in Sunderland.

“We recognise we still need to make improvements in a range of areas and have a detailed plan that’s working.

“It’s pleasing to receive Ofsted acknowledgement that the risks to children are being identified and managed.”

The service’s last full inspection was in April 2018, with findings published in July.

This noted some improvements, particularly in adoption, which was rated ‘Good’, but which still gave an overall rating of ‘Inadequate’.

Councillor Louise Farthing, cabinet member for Children’s Services said: “We want the very best for our children and young people.

“While there is still much to be done to get services to where we want them to be, it’s good to see Ofsted acknowledging the steady progress being made in recruiting a permanent workforce and the comprehensive plans in place to make a real difference to the lives of our children and young people.”

Detective Superintendent Lyn Peart of Northumbria Police’s Safeguarding department said: “We acknowledge the findings of the Ofsted report and we will continue to do all we can to protect young people and children in our region.

“We welcome feedback and strive for continual improvement in all we do in order to better safeguard children.

“We have a triage system in place where we work alongside social workers and early help workers to ensure those in need are receiving all the support they need.

“This is a very new and effective system and we are working hard to ensure the information we are sharing with partners is consistent.

“We will continue to seek to improve our working relationship with Sunderland City Council and together ensure we deliver the best possible service to the public and protect young people.”

The Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner has also been contacted for comment.

James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporting Service