The latest Ofsted visit to Together for Children has noted ‘sustained progress’.
Following Ofsted’s second monitoring visit to the new company since it came into operation in April this year, and the fifth to Sunderland since services were judged to be inadequate in July 2015, the inspectors reported that the company is “making sustained progress in improving services for children in need of help and protection”.
The visit, in mid-October, reviewed progress since the last inspection with regards to help and protection, in particular the contact, referral and assessment arrangements for children, young people and their families.
Inspectors focussed on areas including initial responses to children in need of help and protection including early help; assessment of risk; management decision-making, oversight and supervision; information sharing and partnership working.
During the visit inspectors scrutinised records, conducted interviews with social workers, managers and partnership organisations and reviewed data, audits and records.
In her follow up letter, Fiona Millns, who led the inspection team, said: “There is evidence of progress in many areas including timeliness of decision-making on contacts and referrals, improved management oversight and better staff stability in some teams. Clear strategies are being developed to address practice and support staff recruitment.”
Deborah Jenkins, chair of the Together for Children board, said: “It is encouraging that the progress we have made since becoming operational as a new company in April has been recognised by Ofsted.
“The ongoing efforts of staff from across the company are ensuring that the organisation is taking steady strides in the right direction. I’m pleased to see our progress to date and confident that the company will continue on this upward trajectory.”
Councillor Harry Trueman, Deputy Leader of Sunderland City Council, added: “We’re pleased that Ofsted has noted that the company continues to make steady progress and are confident that we are on the right track to restore our services to the level the children and young people of Sunderland deserve. As a council, we are continuing to work hard in partnership with Together for Children to better our children’s services.”
Reporting on their findings, the inspectors also noted:
· Thresholds are well understood and training is ongoing across the partnerships to ensure a consistent and robust response to concerns about children.
· The integrated contact and referral team (ICRT) provides a timely and effective response to contacts through effective information sharing, clearly recorded decision making and management oversight.
· Overall strategy meetings are arranged promptly, attendance is good and records of meetings are good with clear management rationale and decision-making.
· The voice of the child is clearly seen and contributes effectively to understanding children’s experiences and progressing work.
· Comprehensive performance data ensures that TFC has oversight of key areas of practice and performance.
Inspectors also noted positive steps in recruitment to the new company, an area that was highlighted as needing improvement in the previous monitoring visit in June. The inspectors wrote: “To reduce reliance on agency staff there has been a spotlight on recruitment activity. This has resulted in over 75 new starters welcomed into TFC since April 2017.”
Inspectors also highlighted areas where there still needs to be further improvement, including the number of cases that are re-referred and the timeliness of assessments, but also noted that the company is aware of the challenges and is working to address them, adding: “TFC’s self-assessment also recognises that in some areas it is taking longer to demonstrate progress and impact.”
Councillor Louise Farthing, Portfolio Holder for Children's Services, said: “I am pleased to see we have seen some significant progress since the Ofsted report in July 2015, but no-one is under any illusion that we still have a lot further to go in improving services for children and young people. Everyone at the new company and the Council is firmly committed to continuing our improvement.”