Together for Children chiefs admit Sunderland's service improvements need to speed up
Progress to overhaul Sunderland’s struggling children’s services remains ‘too slow’, education chiefs have said.
Assessors from government watchdog Ofsted said there had been ‘drift and delay’ for the city’s youngsters living in the care system.
But there was also praise for improved recruitment, decision-making and cooperation with other organisations, such as the police, as well as a much-needed cash injection.
A report said inspectors who visited in October had not seen any children ‘at immediate risk of harm’ and conceded there had been improvements made since their last assessment in May.
“However, the pace of improvement remains too slow,” it added.
“While clear care and legal pathways are now in place, there are continued weaknesses in management oversight and the quality of social work practice.
“As a result, some children receive a good and timely response, but too many children experience delays in legal action being taken when it is needed.”
The latest report is based on the findings of a ‘monitoring visit’, the third this year (2019) following 2018’s full inspection, which marked the service ‘Inadequate’ overall, although adoption performance was praised as ‘Good’.
Together for Children (TfC) has managed children’s Services in Sunderland since 2017 when it was created to take over running the department, formerly overseen by Sunderland City Council, following a damning Ofsted in 2015.
According to the latest report, for the first time since 2015 the service has a ‘full complement of permanent senior managers’, while reliance on short term and temporary staff has also been reduced.
In 2017/18, TfC’s first year in business, agency staff cost the organisation more than £6 million.
Inspectors also found staff were now more positive about working in Sunderland and quality of social work is improving, but concerns remain over inconsistency and other weaknesses.
A spokeswoman for Together for Children said: “We welcome the acknowledgement from the latest Ofsted visit that there has been significant work to improve the infrastructure and resources of children’s services as we work to increase the pace of improvement.
“This includes a full complement of permanent senior managers for the first time since 2015, which is really good news as recruiting a permanent workforce is something we have long been working hard to address.
“We are also pleased that improvements in the management of the public law and care proceedings are acknowledged.
“We completely accept the need to speed up the pace of improvement and have put actions in place to address the issues highlighted by Ofsted.
“One example of this is a new quality assurance auditing system which we have recently introduced to evidence the improvements social care is having on the lives of the children and families we work with.
“It is pleasing that Ofsted acknowledge decreased case loads and our positive links with partner agencies as we continue to improve processes to reduce delays to case plans.
“It’s also good to know that the staff they met were very positive about working in Sunderland for Together for Children, and that staff recognise the changes made since the last monitoring visit.
“We continue to build on progress already made in other areas of the service, including fostering and adoption which were both rated good by Ofsted in 2018 and within our children’s homes which are all rated either good or outstanding.
“We remain firmly committed to delivering the best services for all children in Sunderland.”