Latest check on Sunderland's Together for Children services find 'improvement too slow'
The pace of improvement “remains too slow” within Sunderland’s children’s services according to the latest check by Ofsted inspectors.
But the leader of Together for Children (TfC) has said work is well underway to turn around the service, which maintained its July 2015 grading of inadequate during the last full check in July last year.
The third monitoring visit made last month acknowledged a series of improvements, particularly in the management of its court work and care proceedings, but said that progress was not fast enough.
Inspectors also highlighted “continued weakness in management oversight and the quality of social work practice,” within TfC, which was set up in the wake of the 2015 report to run services for Sunderland City Council.
Other concerns included:
*Limited capacity in its legal services
*Insufficient focus on children’s permanent homes
*Inconsistencies in social work – a new audit system is expected to have an impact
Jill Colbert, chief executive of the organisation, welcomed the “constructive” points raised in the letter as it works towards improvements as it “recognises the challenge.”
Ms Colbert said: “The thing I’m very pleased about in this monitoring letter is that it does reflect the evidence progress and improvements.
“I think overall the message we have to take is that they can see what we are doing better and the influence and resources are starting to work, but it is too early to see the impact for children.”
She said a series of senior managers have been put in place, with a director of social care, two heads of service and five senior managers put in place to help drive up standards, while recruitment efforts have seen it take on 50 new social workers and cut its agency staff levels from 45% last year to 12% now.
Ms Colbert explained the service had been affected by a number of legal staff within the council being unwell, and the agency then had to call in solicitors.
While she acknowledged delays on its part, the service has said there is a demand on court space available in the region.
TfC’s contract costs is around £60 million, with a review of how it uses its resources helping progress.
It currently has around 1,000 open cases, where it is working with families through early help services, with around 2,500 considered to be under the guidance of social care.