Safeguarding response ‘deteriorating’ at children’s services trust, Ofsted finds

Monitoring visit to Together for Children in Sunderland finds organisation and council unaware of ongoing weaknesses

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Front-door safeguarding responses at a children’s services trust have ‘deteriorated’, inspectors have found.

In a monitoring visit to Together for Children (TfC) in Sunderland, the second since the organisation was judged ‘inadequate’ at a full inspection in 2018, Ofsted found concerns around how some children’s cases were not being effectively investigated.

“Inspectors identified a number of children’s cases which needed to be urgently reviewed to ensure that children were safe,” a letter summarising the monitoring visit said.

The poor quality of information provided by multi-agency partners was exacerbating the situation, meaning inappropriate interventions followed some referrals, Ofsted found.

But the regulator also discovered that a new policy of not acting on low-level concerns where referring agencies had not sought consent was being poorly applied, which meant that urgent child protection matters had not been addressed.

‘Too much focus on process’

Inspectors also voiced concerns that senior officers and partners at Sunderland council, which owns the children’s services trust, had too little awareness of service shortcomings.

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“Management oversight and quality assurance remain too weak to ensure that essential improvements occur in children’s services,” the report said.

“There is too much focus on process information and not on the quality of work,” it added. “This has given a misleading picture of the experiences of children and their families when receiving a service from TfC and therefore of the overall progress being made in improving children’s services in Sunderland.”

The monitoring visit also found how difficulties filling social work posts at the children’s services trust were also holding back improvements, especially in locality teams.

TfC had been more successful in recruiting managers, inspectors noted, though it was too early to gauge their impact.

Caseloads reducing

Ofsted found positive signs in terms of staff morale and small caseloads within assessment teams, enabling solid work with children and families to be carried out.

Where child protection issues had been correctly picked up, most subsequent work was of a high quality, the report said.

A joint statement by TfC, Sunderland council, Northumbria Police, Sunderland Safeguarding Children’s Board and Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group said “immediate action” was being taken to address issues picked up by Ofsted.

“As partners, we recognise there are still some areas where a greater pace of improvement is needed and have already taken steps to address these,” the statement said. “This includes improving information sharing, the way actions are recorded and being able to provide robust evidence of the impact improvements are having on the lives of the children and families we work with.”

‘Serious and widespread failures’ in Slough

Separately, a full inspection of Slough Children’s Services Trust’s independent fostering agency, published last week, found “serious and widespread failures” leading to an ‘inadequate’ judgement.

Ofsted said that some children were not being protected from harm – leading to “serious detrimental impact” – and that senior leaders were too slow to pick up concerns.

At the time of the inspection the agency had not had a registered manager for more than 18 months.

The fostering agency is inspected separately from the remainder of the children’s services trust, which at its most recent full inspection in March saw its grade improve to ‘requires improvement’.

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