Children’s services in Sunderland – delivered by Together for Children on behalf of Sunderland City Council – are the first in the country to make the leap from Inadequate to Outstanding.
This national first makes Sunderland one of only 18 local authorities in England and one of only four local authorities in the North of England to be rated Outstanding.
During an inspection of services between 28 June and 9 July, Ofsted found that children’s services have been ‘transformed’ and are ‘making a real difference to children’s lives.’
In a report outlining their findings, Ofsted said ‘inspectors evaluated social work practice to be of consistently high quality and relentless in significantly improving the experience of children and young people.’ They also highlighted that the improvement in quality is even more impressive as it’s been achieved during the pandemic, as workers and leaders have worked ceaselessly to improve children’s lives.
Key highlights from the report include:
- Together for Children and Sunderland City Council are aspirational for their cared for children and young people.
- Hearing the voice of the child is an exceptional strength in Sunderland.
- The quality of services for cared for children and care experienced young people is consistently of a high quality.
- Early help is an innovative, multi-agency service that ensures children and families get the right support at the right time.
- Strong and effective partnership working helps to better protect children from harm.
- Staff work tirelessly to ensure children are at the centre of all work and interventions and are strong advocates for their children.
- High-quality and timely decisions are made to ensure that children become cared for at a time that is right for them.
Ofsted also noted that senior leaders have radically changed the service so that it is now outstanding and that social workers and their managers make decisions that are in the best interests of children to make sure they are safe and have every chance to succeed.
Throughout the report, Ofsted commented that children and families are listened to and contribute to change, something which has been central to service developments and improving the lives of children in Sunderland.
They praised the implementation and embedding of a nationally recognised model of social work – Signs of Safety – which results in children’s needs being addressed proactively and better supports children, young people and families to get the right level of help and protection when they need it, and went on to say that because safeguarding thresholds are well understood, children receive the right level of intervention from social workers in a timely way, and out of hours social work services are responsive to risk for children.
Ofsted also praised senior leadership senior council officers, councillors and staff, adding that the ‘city council has a highly robust oversight of its statutory children’s services’ and that ‘senior leaders and members of the council have demonstrated an unstinting commitment to improving children’s outcomes with sustained and significant investment in children’s services’.
Jill Colbert, Chief Executive of Together for Children and Director of Children’s Services for the City Council, said:
“The outcome of this inspection marks a turning point for children’s services and for families in Sunderland. It draws a line under our difficult history and celebrates the incredible work our staff have done to deliver outstanding services to children. I hope every member of staff, and all our partners who have offered support, feel rightly proud of what we have achieved together. The publication of our report provides an opportunity to celebrate our success but more importantly, celebrate the children and families who have been part of driving our improvement journey.”
Patrick Melia, Chief Executive of Sunderland City Council, said:
“Securing an outstanding rating from Ofsted marks a step change in the transformation of children’s services in Sunderland. This has taken drive and determination from all those involved and I would like to pay tribute to everyone who has played a role in making this happen from the dedicated staff, leadership team and Board at Together for Children and our councillors and staff who haven’t wavered in their determination to see children’s services improve, to our partners who have supported us throughout and the children and young people who have played a vital role in helping re-shape our children’s services for the better. There is still work to do but this is a significant milestone in our continuing drive to secure the very best future for our children and young people.”
Paul Moffat, Chair of the Together for Children Board and Improvement Board, said:
“Ofsted has hit the nail on the head when they said that there is a new and vibrant culture across the organisation. Not only have we tried to listen to children throughout our journey, but also to our staff who deliver the support and interventions. We know that well supported and valued staff deliver high quality services, and this report is testament to that. On behalf of the Board, I’m delighted with the outcome and commend the teams on an outstanding result.”
Cllr Graeme Miller
Welcoming the news, the Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Graeme Miller, said:
“Children and young people in Sunderland deserve the very best, so I’m absolutely delighted to see Ofsted rating our children’s services outstanding after an exceptionally difficult few years. This transformation has been very much driven by council Chief Executive Patrick Melia and Director of Children’s Services Jill Colbert. But none of this could have been achieved without the tremendous dedication and commitment of all the hard-working staff at Together for Children or the young people of our city who have worked with them to reshape our children’s services into something we can all be proud of.”
Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Councillor Louise Farthing added:
“Nothing is more important to us than protecting vulnerable children so I’m particularly pleased to see Ofsted acknowledging the significant impact improvements in children’s services have had on the lives of children and young people and their families in our city, the fact that our social workers speak and care passionately about the children they work with and that our children feel they are being listened to and their views are being heard. These improvements are all the more significant given that they have been achieved against the backdrop of a global pandemic.”
Cllr Louise Farthing
Conservative MP Vicky Ford - Children and Families Minister
Children and Families Minister, Conservative MP, Vicky Ford said:
“The vast improvements in Sunderland demonstrate the importance of intervening swiftly and decisively where children and families are being failed, so that the right support is in place to level up outcomes and transform lives. I’m enormously proud of the positive change leaders and staff in Sunderland have achieved, working tirelessly to continue raising the bar even as the pressures of the pandemic took hold. Our joint challenge now is to sustain these significant improvements for future generations.
The full report outlining Ofsted’s findings from the inspection can be read at Ofsted | Sunderland City Council.