‘Children’s Services Company’ to protect Sunderland’s young people after fall-out damning report

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A Children’s Services Company is set to be established to take over the running of children’s social services in Sunderland.

It is hoped that the move will help rebuild reputation of the authority’s children’s services, after a damning Ofsted inspection last summer.

Niall Hodson

Niall Hodson

A report, due to be discussed by Sunderland City Council’s cabinet tomorrow, cites one of the key principles of the new company as ‘doing the best we can for children in Sunderland’.

The new company, the establishment of which was agreed by members in principle in April, will have day-to-day operational freedom in respect of the management and delivery of the services it will be responsible for.

However, in contracting out services, the council will remain statutorily responsible for their performance.

The council’s leadership, management and governance was graded as inadequate by Ofsted inspectors, as was its work with children who need help and protection and those who are looked after, from adoption to those leaving its care.

I think the setting up of a trust to manage children’s services in the city is something to be welcomed, but we need to recognise that there is still a lot of work still to be done, and tackling the failings highlighted by Ofsted will take some time

Coun Niall Hodson, Liberal Democrats

Labour councillor Pat Smith initially refused to resign from her post as cabinet member for children’s services. However, she lost the role in a reshuffle last month.

The services recommended to transfer across to the new Children’s Services Company include those currently run under direction of the government; children in need of protection (social care); children that are looked after; and children with disabilities.

Nineteen further services will also transfer to the new company, while three are recommended to remain under the council.

Independent Reviewing Officers and the Adoption Agency service will remain as local authorities are not permitted to contact those out by law.

Coun Robert Oliver.

Coun Robert Oliver.

The company will be run by a board consisting of a chairman, two executive directors and five non-executive directors, while the Department for Education is expected to provide funding, pending a business case being put forward.

The cabinet report reads: “It is noted that the services inspected by Ofsted and covered by the existing Direction of the Secretary of State must transfer to the new company.

“However, in the case of other services there is a choice. This report and discussions to date have considered the full scope of Children’s Services.

“The approach to be taken in respect of support services will be considered separately at a later date.”

Members are expected to agree to receive a further report in September, when the company will begin to operate in shadow form, until the formal transfer completes in April 2017.

Opposition councillors have called for a strong leadership to run the new Children’s Services Company, as well as assurance of openness, transparency and accountability.

Conservative councillor Robert Oliver said: “The establishment of a trust to run Children’s Services in Sunderland is a positive step forward and the hope is that the city can now move on from a damning report that has cost the people of Sunderland dearly in terms of vulnerable children being let down as well as the massive financial cost of improving the service.

“The new trust will only work if there is both good leadership and effective recruitment of social workers as these two issues have been a problem for a long time and only a sustained effort to improve the conditions under which social workers operate, along with stronger local leadership, will ensure the stability people want.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Niall Hodson said: “I think the setting up of a trust to manage children’s services in the city is something to be welcomed, but we need to recognise that there is still a lot of work still to be done, and tackling the failings highlighted by Ofsted will take some time.

“Wearside Liberal Democrats will be seeking assurances that this trust will be open, transparent, and accountable for the work it does, the children it protects, and the public money it spends.

“I hope that people of all political parties and none can work together with experts and professional staff to make sure our Council provides the support that children and families in Sunderland need.”

Statement from Councillor Louise Farthing, Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services, Sunderland City Council:

“The report to Cabinet is the latest stage in plans to set up a new organisation to take forward Children’s Services in Sunderland.

This will be responsible for delivering the highest quality service as well as the infrastructure needed to run fully integrated children’s services.

Cabinet agreed in April to establish a company to deliver children’s services on behalf of the council.

The council has been working closely with Nick Whitfield, the Commissioner for Children’s Services and the Department for Education (DfE) since last July’s Ofsted report to look at how it can do things differently to ensure the best possible services for children and families.

A significant amount of work has been done since then to improve safeguarding including £16m further investment to strengthen management and support, including additional frontline staff.

The report to Cabinet makes a series of recommendations around the proposed scope of services to transfer to the new Children’s Services company and the proposed Governance arrangements subject to approval by the Commissioner for Children’s services and the DfE.

It also sets out the process for developing a Memorandum of Understanding with the DfE and the Business Case to support the establishment of the new company, with a view to this being set up in shadow form from September before becoming an organisation in its own right next April.”