Sunderland children’s services is making “steady progress” in improving its services for children and young people, Ofsted has said.
In its sixth monitoring visit since the authority was judged inadequate in June 2015, Ofsted found Together for Children (TfC) which the authority set up to deliver children’s services functions on behalf of the council, including early help, social care and education services for children, was making steady progress in improving services when problems first emerge for children, young people and their families.
“The refreshed early help service was established in April 2017 and is already demonstrating a significant increase in the take up of early help services: from 252 open cases in April 2017 to 646 open cases in December 2017,” said the report. “Schools and Northumbria police in particular are more engaged and have an increased understanding about the threshold to children’s social care and their roles in providing early help to children and their families.
“However, it is too early to see the full impact of these developments,” inspectors warned.
TfC is working effectively with other agencies to manage the early help response and to further develop information sharing across agencies, the report noted. Early help staff within TfC clearly understand what is to be achieved and the flexibility required in their approach. However, there are inconsistencies in the quality of assessment, planning and management oversight.
Management oversight of practice is limited because the current electronic case recording systems are not able to collate some important data about the impact and quality of early help and there is very little commentary and analysis about what this means for children and families. This means that TfC are not yet able to fully address deficits in the quality of early help responses to children and families.
The recently introduced case auditing process has rightly focused on compliance with processes. Now that systems are established, the local authority is aware that it needs to improve consistency in the quality of practice, and a new electronic recording system is being launched directly following this monitoring visit, the report highlighted.
Inspectors found that early help plans demonstrated some effective work with families in offering support where needs were often complex. Early help workers are consistently providing parenting support as well as undertaking direct work with children. However, the quality of practice is inconsistent.
Inspectors also noted that the voice of the child is not always considered in assessments, and plans do not always include clear timescales for actions to be completed. When children’s cases are stepped up to or down from statutory services, information sharing protocols are not always followed. Important information is not always shared effectively to inform and coordinate ongoing work with children and families about risks and needs. This results in a need for additional repetitive work for staff, children and families and increases the likelihood of delays in appropriate services being provided.
In the main, early help workers receive regular monthly supervision. Supervision considers personal development, training and case management. However, good supervision practice is not consistently applied and actions are not always prioritised with clear timescales. Where practice is stronger, there is clear consideration of changing circumstances, risks and thresholds within children’s cases and the early response to children and families is improving, the report concludes.