Sunderland’s children’s services chief has admitted money worries keep her ‘awake at night’.
Jill Colbert, director of children’s services, was speaking to Sunderland City Council bosses about the challenges facing social workers.
But despite her finance fears, she thinks keeping the city’s most vulnerable youngsters safe is something her department does ‘very well’.
“I’ve got some anxiety,” she told a meeting of the council’s Children, Education and Skills Scrutiny Committee.
“If you look at what happened after the Baby P scandal, the number of referrals went up, it only takes one thing to go wrong and social care finds itself inundated.
“But I think there’s a growing recognition that there is a problem – Rotherham council said they were taking £10million out of other budgets and making difficult decision because they needed to [fund children’s services].”
She added: “It’s a very personal statement, but sometimes it’s money that keeps me awake at night and not the ability to keep children safe because I think we do that very well.”
Following revelations over failures which led to the death of 17-month-old Baby P in Haringey, London, in 2007, there was a ‘surge’ in the number of children being referred to care services in England and Wales, hitting a high of more than 900 court applications in a single month.
Ofsted branded children’s services in Sunderland ‘Inadequate’ in 2015, leading to the city council being relieved of direct responsibility for the department, which was later handed over to the newly created Together for Children (TfC).
Colbert was a week into her role as TfC’s chief executive when a second Ofsted report marked the service ‘Inadequate’ again, but also revealed some improvements.
Since then, she says she has continued addressing concerns, particularly criticism of a ‘heavy reliance’ on agency staff, dropping the proportion of temporary workers to 12%, less than the national average.
But a national shortage of social workers means the organisation still struggles with a vacancy rate of about 20%, hampering early intervention efforts.
“We cannot keep running at the rate we’re running at now,” she said, “I don’t just mean in terms of money, but also the number of families in the system.”