Vulnerable children in Sunderland still being failed by the system - damning new report
Children's services in Sunderland remain inadequate, a damning report published today reveals.
Ofsted has just delivered its latest critical report into children's services in the city - which have been run by Together for Children on behalf of Sunderland City Council since April 2017.
And although it said some improvements had been made since it first graded the service as inadequate back in 2015 - when services were run by the local authority - there had not been enough done to lift the overall rating.
The full Ofsted inspection took place in May and comes after six monitoring visits to the council and Together for Children.
The re-inspection gave the service an inadequate rating for children who need help and protection. The same rating was also applied to leadership, management and governance.
Ofsted gave a 'requires improvement' rating to children looked after and achieving permanence along with experiences and progress of care leavers. Adoption performance was described as good.
In their executive summary, Ofsted inspectors wrote that while children in Sunderland "are better served today than they were three years ago" they felt "there has not been sufficient progress made to ensure that the experiences of children who need help and protection have improve."
The report also said that "children who go missing and those at risk of child sexual exploitation do not receive a co-ordinated response to protect them."
In a series of highly critical findings, Ofsted inspectors noted:
* Children in need of help and protection are not adequately protected. They do not receive services that meet their needs at the right time.
* Early help planning is not of good enough quality. Too much emphasis is placed in the adult rather than the child's needs and experiences.
* Some children and their families experience delays in accessing services to support victims of domestic abuse.
* A small but significant number of children were not identified by social workers as needing protection, meaning some children were left at risk of significant harm.
* Children who go missing from home and those who are at risk of child sexual exploitation are not adequately safeguarded. They do not receive a well-coordinated multi-agency response in order to reduce risk and keep them safe. Risk assessments are not thorough and they are not updated when children's circumstances change. Safety plans are not routine.
* Children aged 16 and 17 who present as homeless are not routinely informed of their right to be accommodated or helped to understand how they could benefit from this.
* Leadership, management and governance are inadequate. Senior managers have not ensured the safety of the most vulnerable children. Senior managers do not have a good enough understanding of some of the weaknesses in practice or the quality of the services being provided.
* There have been four changes of director of children's services since the last inspection. This has impacted on the momentum of improvement. The pace of change has been too slow for too long, particularly for children in need of help and protection.
* There is insufficient 'grip' on the front line for vulnerable children who go missing and those who are at risk of child sexual exploitation. When children's circumstances change, and concerns escalate, this is not always recognised or responded to in a timely way.
* Child and family social work is challenged by the continued heavy reliance on agency staff. The demand for permanent staff in Sunderland outstrips supply.
The report said that when it came to the experiences and progress of children looked after and achieving permanance, this area still required improvement before it could be rated as good.
It highlighted lower caseloads and improved workforce stability which allowed youngsters to develop better working relationships with their social workers. It also noted that "a stronger emphasis is placed on children living with extended family and friends if it is safe to do so."
The best performing area of the service was adoption performance, which was judged to be good.
The report said "substantial progress" had been made in this area and praised the work of a "very committed and stable team." It also highlighted work done with prospective adopters to help them develop the skills required to take on youngsters and the work done to ensure children are matched with the most suitable adopters.
Key recommendations highlighted by Ofsted inspectors included:
* Ensuring youngsters at risk of child sexual exploitation and those who go missing have an up-to-date assessment of risks that "informs a comprehensive response to keep them safe."
* Improve training for social workers and managers to ensure all staff have the right skills for their roles.
* Ensure children who present themselves as homeless fully understand their rights to being looked after under law.
* Ensure children who come into care or need an alternative home are provided with a placement that meets their needs and offers stability.