Sunderland council chiefs reveals more on difficulties facing under-fire children’s services

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Almost 40 per cent of staff who work in troubled children’s services within Sunderland are agency staff, the council has revealed.

The departments at Sunderland City Council have one agency worker to every two of its own employees, with more than 10% of its workforce - 49 out of its 481 workers - leaving between April last year and this March.

Councillor Paul Watson

Councillor Paul Watson

This week, Ofsted’s inspection into the authority’s child protection, adoption, and children in care services, as well as the effectiveness of its safeguarding children board, assessed them as inadequate.

It found “children are potentially at risk from harm” because of “widespread and serious failures”.

Problems include a backlog of cases, with 21 referred back to the council for action, cases which are “insufficient and poorly co-ordinated” and a loss of confidence with other organisations causing delays.

The council has said it has already started to carry out improvements, but they had not had time to take affect by the time inspectors arrived.

It says the difficulties are down to a rise in cases, problems recruiting staff and the impact of cuts.

Now, following a request for more details from the Echo, the council has issued further information.

In 2010/11, before austerity measures were brought in, the total children’s safeguarding budget stood at £30.1million, and this year is £31.6million.

The council has said it has tried to safeguard budgets and put in an additional £1.5million into the service since the cuts hit to help with pressures, with a further £5.4million being invested.

However, the council has stated the £170million of cuts the council has faced overall has had an affect on the ‘back office support’ and wider services.

Its caseload rose from 2,663 to 3,255 between March 2014 and this march, with the number of child protection plans up by 26% from 306 to 412 and the number of youngsters in need 18% from 491 to 570.

It has said while it has reduced caseloads to an average of 25, it is working towards a target of 18.

Council leader Paul Watson said: “The shortage of qualified, experienced social workers is well documented nationally and Sunderland is not immune to this so in common with the majority of councils, we use agency staff to cover vacant positions.
“We are doing a lot of work to stabilise our workforce and reduce the level of staff turnover to a much more stable level.

“To help us achieve this, we have introduced a number of core development programmes for social workers including the social work academy.”