Sunderland children's services transform from Inadequate to Outstanding

Children's services in Sunderland, delivered by Together for Children on behalf of Sunderland City Council, have become the first in the country to make the leap from 'Inadequate' to 'Outstanding'. 

During an inspection of services Ofsted found that children's services have been 'transformed' and are 'making a real difference to children's lives.'

The 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.

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.

The report highlighted that:

  • 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.

Jill Colbert Chief Executive of Together for Children and Director of Childrens Services Sunderland"The outcome of this inspection marks a turning point for children's services and for families in Sunderland," said Jill Colbert, Chief Executive of Together for Children and Director of Children's Services for the City Council. "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."

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.

They praised the implementation and embedding of a nationally recognised model of social work, 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'.

Children and Families Minister 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."

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