Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson, visited Sunderland today, meeting with staff from the new company responsible for children’s services in the city and Sunderland City councillors.
During his visit, Mr Timpson, Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, met social workers from Together for Children, the organisation now delivering children’s services in Sunderland on behalf of the City Council, supported by the Department for Education.
Mr Timpson also met with Emma Dougherty who, having previously been a looked after child and supported by the Next Steps programme, has recently joined Together for Children as an assistant social worker after graduating from the University of Sunderland.
Together for Children’s Next Steps programme supports young people as they prepare to leave care.
Services for care leavers were among those judged inadequate in a July 2015 Ofsted report into children’s services, but have since been found to have made significant progress during a monitoring visit in August 2016.
In June 2015, the numbers of care leavers in suitable accommodation was 45%. By February 2017, this had increased to 76%. In June 2015 only 25% of care leavers were in education, training or employment and this figure had increased to nearly 48% by February 2017.
Mr Timpson was keen to talk to Emma about her experiences of social work in Sunderland and the improvements she has seen.
Mr Timpson said: “It is a pleasure to visit Sunderland today, particularly to meet with young care leavers who have had such a positive experience. I am confident that the launch of Together for Children is an important step in the improvement journey of children’s services in this area.”
Council Leader, Councillor Paul Watson, said: “We are delighted the Minister took the time to come to Sunderland to talk to some of our social workers about their own experience of the improvements we have worked very hard to make.
“We know we still have a significant way to go before services are in the place we want them to be but we are starting to make inroads in improving the lives of the children and young people and the leaving care service is just one example of where we have begun to make a difference.”
Alex Hopkins, Chief Executive of Together for Children, added: “It was good that the Minister was able to visit Sunderland to see the progress being made and to talk to some of those involved about how we can build on our progress to provide the services children and young people in the city deserve. I was particularly pleased that he had the opportunity to meet social care staff who have been central in helping turn services around since the Ofsted inspection.”
Assistant social worker Emma Dougherty, 23, said: “As someone who grew up in care, I want to make be able to make a difference to all those young people in our community who find themselves in the same situation as I did because of family circumstances beyond their control.
“There are still a lot of misconceptions about looked after children and life in care, but with the supportive home environment provided by foster and adoptive parents you can achieve anything if you work hard enough. The Next Steps programme helped me demonstrate that, and I hope I can help encourage many more to follow my lead.”
Together for Children became operational on April 1st 2017. The new organisation was developed in partnership with Nick Whitfield, the Government's Commissioner for Children's Services, the Department for Education (DfE), and the City Council. The plans saw Sunderland become the first council in the country to voluntarily transfer the running of children’s services out of council control in co-operation with the DfE.