Ofsted's latest inspection of children’s services in Sunderland, which are now delivered by Together for Children, has found significant progress in areas including adoption and the experience of children leaving care, with other areas still requiring improvement.
The inspection found improvements in three out of the five areas inspected, noting ‘Children in Sunderland are better served today than they were three years ago’ and that ‘solid improvements have been made for children in care, children with a plan for adoption and care leavers’.
Adoption services have climbed two levels to be rated ‘good’, with Ofsted commenting that ‘significant progress has been made’, while both looked after children and the experience of children leaving care are now rated higher than previously.
The full inspection, which took place in May, followed six monitoring visits to the Council and Together for Children, all of which reported ‘steady’ or ‘sustained’ improvements. However despite the progress made, improvements have not yet been enough to lift children’s services as a whole out of their inadequate rating.
Deborah Jenkins, Chair of Together for Children, the company which has run children's services on behalf of the City Council since April 2017, said: “Transformation of this scale and from such a low base takes time and while we are disappointed at the overall judgement, we are encouraged that in three out of the five inspection areas Ofsted have acknowledged the improvements that have been made.
“Everyone at Together for Children remains steadfastly committed to working tirelessly to quickly address the remaining areas that have been identified by Ofsted as still falling short of where they need to be.”
Councillor Graeme Miller, Leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “We always knew it would take time to turn things around, so this is not unexpected in view of the incredibly challenging Ofsted inspection in 2015. While we're disappointed with the overall rating, what is reassuring is that areas like adoption and services for care leavers have improved and that Ofsted have noted 'solid improvements' being made.
“In the last 15 months we have had a major transformation in the way children’s services is managed and run, with Together for Children now delivering children's services on behalf of the council. This has made significant strides in some areas but we completely accept a much greater pace of improvement is needed in others. This is something we are looking to address. We want the very best for our children and young people in Sunderland and we will settle for nothing less than that."
In its report Ofsted acknowledges that: 'Sunderland has made progress in creating and rebuilding the foundations needed to deliver improved services from a low base. This includes developing services that did not previously exist, improved workforce stability and effectively reduced workloads, strengthened partnership working and enhancing the voice and influence of children.' It adds that the changes are ‘beginning to improve experiences and outcomes’.