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Ofsted finds limited progress at Sunderland

Progress in improving services at Sunderland has been limited, Ofsted has said.

Due to a technical fault, the electronic case recording system was unavailable on the second day of the first monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate for overall effectiveness for a second time in July 2018. This resulted in the inspectors being unable to scrutinise all the areas that had been agreed.

"On the areas inspectors were able to look at, progress in improving services has been limited. Better decision-making systems have been developed and workforce stability is improved, but this has yet to sufficiently impact on the inconsistency in the quality of social work practice," said the report.

Following the previous inspection in July 2015, Sunderland city council set up Together for Children (TfC) to deliver children’s services functions on behalf of the council. Since the inspection in July 2018, a new chief executive and director for TfC have been in post.

The report said that since the last inspection, TfC has made steady progress in the recruitment of a permanent workforce. Systems have been developed to monitor and improve the effectiveness of support to vulnerable families.

The quality of the immediate social work response to children and families when requests are made for support remains inconsistent. A lack of understanding by partner agencies of the thresholds for access to children’s services continues. Too many children’s cases are referred which do not meet the criteria for statutory involvement. This results in social workers spending too much time trying to gather information where families do not need this level of support.

The timeliness of the response to requests for support is good, however, on many cases the response by social workers is not sufficiently thorough.

The quality of recording does not always enable an understanding of the issues and work undertaken. Management oversight does not address these weaknesses in practice well enough.

Inspectors highlighted:

- Since the last inspection, TfC and Sunderland City Council have produced a learning and improvement plan which comprehensively addresses the recommendations from the Ofsted inspection.

- The consideration of the high number of ‘child concern notifications’ from the Northumbria police is effective and a new triage system has been established.

- TfC have been monitoring and improving their response time to contacts, and this has resulted in almost all now being concluded within 24 hours.

- Inspectors saw some good examples of social work recording, however, in the main, recording does not detail what the social worker has done, what information has been acquired or the rationale for why decisions are made.

- Social workers who met inspectors reported improved management oversight since the last inspection. As a result, they now felt better supported to deliver good quality children’s social work.

However, agencies’ understanding of thresholds to access children’s social care is not yet embedded.

Inspectors also looked at re-referrals which occur when a child’s case is closed to children’s services and then further concerns arise. In some cases, previous assessments had not identified core issues, and, as a result, these had not been tackled. This resulted in children’s needs not being addressed. A high proportion of re-referral is due to parents repeatedly refusing to work with children’s services but TfC do not have a full understanding of why there is a high number of parents declining supportive services.

Quality assurance processes are under developed and are not yet contributing to an effective understanding of all the areas requiring improvement. However, a new quality assurance framework is currently being developed and it is planned that this will be implemented by May 2019.

Monitoring visit of Sunderland children’s services

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