Together for Children to deliver children's services in Sunderland

The continued improvement of Sunderland Children's Services took a major step forward with the launch of a new company to deliver children's services on behalf of the City Council.

Together for Children has been set up by Sunderland City Council to build on the improvements it has made since an Ofsted inspection report in July 2015 found services to be inadequate.

The company will provide integrated children's services covering education, children's social care and early help to the city's 57,630 children and young people and their families.

Plans for the new organisation were developed by the City Council in partnership with Nick Whitfield, the Government's Commissioner for Children's Services and the Department for Education (DfE).

Councillor Paul Watson, The Leader of Sunderland City Council, who played an instrumental role in the decision to set up the new company, said: "We recognised early on that there was a need for a fundamental change in the way children's services were delivered to ensure the best possible future for our children and young people.

"There has been a tremendous amount of hard work to improve the service since July 2015, with some significant improvements, and the last three Ofsted monitoring visits have all reported steady progress.

"We believe Together for Children is best placed to build on what has been achieved already and to drive forward the further improvements that are needed."

More than 800 staff across a wide range of disciplines and professions are transferring to the new company from the council from 1 April. These include social care staff, early years, family support, education and other specialists such as youth offending and substance misuse.

The company will be owned by and be accountable to the council, but it will have its own board of directors who will set the direction of the company, supervise the management of the business and hold the management team to account.

Nick Whitfield, the Government appointed Commissioner for Children's Services in Sunderland,  said: "This is a real opportunity to deliver innovative children's services that can ensure further improvement and sustained delivery.

"Sunderland is the first council in the country to voluntarily transfer the day to day running of children's services out of council control in co-operation with the DfE, so Together for Children is unique and I look forward to seeing it continue to build on the steady progress that has been made so far.

"The council deserves the credit for recognising that it needed to do something different to make a  difference to children's lives and for forging ahead with those plans to drive forward further improvements."

Significant improvements since the 2015 Ofsted inspection include:

• A permanent senior management structure in place to support the delivery of safe and effective services
• A reduction in the number of unallocated cases from 269 at the time of the 2015 inspection to just nine at the end of January 2017
• Average caseloads down to 19 in January 2017 compared to between 30 to 40 in 2015
• 92% of child protection visits completed in ten working days, compared with 55% completed in 28 days in 2015
• 96% of care leavers now have a pathway plan compared to 69% in November 2015
• Ongoing recruitment programme with recruitment and retention targets in place

Councillor Louise Farthing, Portfolio Holder for Children's Services, said: "We have seen some real improvements on key measures like the size of caseloads and the number of unallocated cases.

"Significantly we've also had social workers reporting that they feel more supported, and children, parents and carers speaking positively about the support they receive from social workers which is a big step forward from where we were in 2015.  

"Together for Children will be working to keep up that momentum and build on it to make sure that children and young people get the services they need to live safe, happy, healthy and successful lives."

The new company will be run by Alex Hopkins, Chief Executive of Together for Children alongside a team of five highly experienced directors and children's services staff who have transferred from the council.

Alex, who joined the Council as Director of Children's Services from Northamptonshire County Council last July, has a proven record in transforming Children's Services.

He said: "There has already been great work done so far on our improvement journey and I’m confident that the company will continue to improve in delivering its key priorities.

“As the first of its kind in the country, Together for Children marks a new era of Children’s Services. We will be an innovative company and a beacon for the North East in terms of good practice, focusing on improving the lives of children and their families, keeping them safe from harm, and ensuring they have the opportunity to fulfill their potential."

Edward Timpson, Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, said: “All children and young people deserve the very best start in life, and children’s services must be able to deliver this.

"Today marks an important step in the improvement journey of children’s services in this area and is the result of many months of hard work by Sunderland, Together for Children and the Commissioner Nick Whitfield. I look forward to working closely with Together for Children as its work progresses.”