Sunderland's children services target 'good' rating after 'positive feedback' from inspectors
The boss of Sunderland’s child services is hoping they can be classed as “good” by next year after attracting “positive feedback” from inspectors.
Together for Children (TfC), which operates children’s services on behalf of Sunderland City Council, is under going a series of monitoring visits from education watchdog Ofsted after receiving an “inadequate” overall verdict in 2018.
The third of these visits in October last year concluded that improvement “remains too slow” while highlighting “continued weakness in management oversight and the quality of social work practice”.
A fourth inspection this February, however, witnessed “better social work improving the experience of children and young people in care” and noted that “senior management oversight has considerably improved”.
TfC chief executive Jill Colbert described the new report as “positive feedback” and believes a fifth visit is possible before a full inspection takes place by May 2021.
She said: “We would be happy to have another visit so that we can continue to demonstrate the improvements we are seeking to achieve before a full inspection.
“We are aiming to be classed as good as that is what we try to be all the time.
“We have to have an aspiration which reflects improvements in Ofsted terms.
“We want the people of Sunderland to be proud of the services we have here and that also creates a good environment for us all to work in.”
The two-day visit on February 11-12 noted that “senior managers have continued to focus on the recruitment and retention of managers and staff across their services”.
This has ensured “a reduced use of short-term social work” with 22 newly qualified social workers employed “over and above the agreed workforce numbers”.
Inspector Neil Penswick wrote: “Since the last monitoring visit, TfC have continued the improvements in ensuring permanent experienced staffing and management are in place.
“Quality assurance arrangements are also improving. Reduced caseloads are enabling social workers to carry out more direct work with children including life-story work.
“All the workers who met inspectors reported positively about working in Sunderland.
“Senior management oversight was much more evident on this visit.
“Senior managers know their services well and can describe the strengths of the social work practice and the weaknesses which they are addressing.”
An area identified as requiring further improvement was “the recognition of safeguarding issues in the children with disability team”.
The report stated: “While no child was found to be unsafe, basic safeguarding procedures have not always been followed.”
Ms Colbert said: “Ofsted recognise we knew it was an area we needed to improve on.
“A second team manager has arrived but was only in place three weeks before the report so did not get the opportunity to embed what they are requiring.”
Deborah Jenkins, TfC’s board chair, added: “This latest feedback acknowledges the progress we have made against our improvement plans and I’m confident that it brings us closer to our mission and vision to improve the lives of children in care across Sunderland.”
“Good” is the second highest of four Ofsted ratings and would see TfC jump two grades.
The organisation was set up to run children’s services on behalf of the council in 2017 after the council’s own department was rated “inadequate” – the lowest verdict possible – in July 2015.
This grade remained unchanged in July 2018 with inspectors concluding that “there has not been sufficient progress made to ensure that the experiences of children who need help and protection have improved".