Funding cuts '˜biggest single risk' to child safety in Sunderland, warns safeguarding chief warns
Government austerity is the 'biggest single risk' to children's safety in Sunderland, a safeguarding boss has warned
This month, councillors discussed the most recent annual report from Sunderland’s Safeguarding Children Board (SSCB) for 2017/18.
The board includes representatives from several city partners, including Northumbria Police, health bosses and Together for Children (TfC) – the agency running children’s services on behalf of Sunderland City Council.
In action, it aims to improve welfare by monitoring policies and publishing serious case reviews around lessons learned from failings in childrens’ care.
In his summary of safeguarding in the city, the independent chair of the board, Sir Paul Ennals, has warned government cuts could have a huge impact.
Speaking at Sunderland Civic Centre on January 10, he explained increased demands on services and budget cuts were leaving agencies “pushing the stone uphill”.
“The biggest single safeguarding risk in Sunderland is the impact of government austerity measures and the collective impact on the budgets of all the public agencies that are operating within the safeguarding board,” he told the council’s Children Education and Skills Scrutiny Committee.
“Whilst it’s the council which has received the highest number of cuts, the health bodies have received significant cuts and police are probably second in the hurting level where their cuts have been now around 25 per cent, schools are (also) starting to be properly hit.
“And the impact of these cuts has been particularly serious in the areas of early help which are aimed at trying to keep children and families out of child protection.
“If we add to that the increasing levels of poverty, we’re seeing that overall there is a lot we can still do and a lot we’re doing.
“But a lot of what we’re doing is pushing a stone uphill as a lot of the pressures are coming down from government.”
Despite improving in several areas in its latest inspection last year, including adoption, TfC failed to shake its ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating.
This followed a damning inspection in 2015 which saw responsibility for children’s services transferred from the council to TfC.
In his annual report, the safeguarding boss praised the ability of services to “recognise if things are getting out of control” and their willingness to make improvements.
He also pledged to investigate how the board could forge closer links with the voluntary and community sector (VCS) after concerns were raised by Coun Phil Tye about community groups “picking up the gaps”.
“We took a snapshot in the organisation where I do some work and out of 80 young people that were in one particular session, 20 per cent of them were looked after children,” Coun Tye said.
“It shows that the contact rates with the VCS with looked after children is extremely high.
“Yet, there is no single point of contact across the VCS networks and I would say it’s not a responsibility of TfC but it’s something that the safeguarding board should think about.
“You have VCS organisations from low-level uniform groups to big players in the city doing lots and lots of work and it’s making sure we capture each of those.”
Other concerns raised at the meeting by councillors included the impact of universal credit, homeschooling and children self harming.
Chief Executive of TfC , Jill Colbert, said the organisation has an understanding of the work and performance of all organisations working with children in Sunderland.
Despite this, she said that infrastructure around the VCS ‘“wasn’t as robust as it could be” and that a new group could be formed to build links.
“I’m in dialogue with the chief executive of the council about strengthening the commissioning and was hoping in future to have a much more transparent relationship with the VCS,” she said.
“Whilst it’s the safeguarding board’s interest to know the quality of that side (VCS), they don’t necessarily need to hold the ring on it.
“They’re a engine room for strategic coordination not a delivery organisation and a third sector infrastructure group could do a lot of that work.”
Going forward, the SSCB’s annual business plan 2017-2019 has outlined several priorities around safeguarding children in the city.
This includes a focus on vulnerable children, neglect and “compromised parenting” around mental health, substance abuse and domestic abuse
For more information, visit: www.safeguardingchildrensunderland.com
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service