Sunderland council bosses to offer ‘Total Help’ to children after report finds serious failings

Sunderland Civic Centre.
Sunderland Civic Centre.
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Council bosses have given the thumbs-up to the first steps to transform the way children’s services are run across Wearside.

A meeting of the city council’s cabinet yesterday approved the creation of a new company or trust to deliver the services, to appoint consultants with relevant specialist experience to advise on the process of setting it up, and to authorise officers to take the necessary steps to establish the new body.

A report will come back to the cabinet in June outlining the planned scope of services the new body will handle, how it will be run and the terms of a new agreement between the council and the Department for Education.

The name Total Help for Children – Sunderland has been registered at Companies House, even though the exact details of what final form the new body will take have yet to be finalised.

Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled plans to create a new body to run the city’s under-fire children’s services in December.

The move came after inspectors found “serious and widespread” failings with the existing department.

Ofsted inspectors announced the department and the city’s Local Safeguarding Board were inadequate after a visit in July last year.

Managers and senior councillors were singled out for criticism, with services for care leavers and poorly-managed support for children at risk of sexual exploitation also highlighted.

Coun Pat Smith is the council’s portfolio holder with responsibility for children’s services and she commended the latest report to yesterday’s cabinet meeting.

The changes would “allow us to put in place arrangements that will deliver improved services in an holistic way”, she said.

It was important to ensure the new body was up to the challenge, she added: “We need to ensure the arrangements put in place are the right arrangements.”

The process of setting up the new body would allow councillors to play a part in deciding how it should work.

“There will be opportunities for members to be involved in these areas prior to further reports coming back to cabinet,” she said.

City council leader Coun Paul Watson said the changes were welcome, but the pace of change had been frustrating because of problems with recruiting new social workers.

“Some problems are really intractable,” he said.

“There has been good progress made – we have got the Secretary of State saying that, we have got the Inspector saying that.

“We are pleased with the progress that has been made and is being made, but not happy with the speed and the fact it is not as perfect as it could be.”