Together for Children in Sunderland are Outstanding!

Together for Children Ofsted
Huge congratulations to Sunderland City Council and Together for Children who have been implementing the Signs of Safety across all of their children’s services work and have been assessed by the English audit commission Ofsted as outstanding. The report provides a very detailed account of how a failing authority in 2015 has navigated a journey to outstanding performance in 2021 including the leadership and culture transformation that has been the foundation of the practice change. Mari Jayne has been the Signs of Safety lead consultant working with Together for Children through this journey — congratulations too to Mari.

As the Ofsted report states:
“Children’s services in Sunderland are outstanding. The city council has a highly robust oversight of its statutory children’s services which are delegated to Together for Children (TfC) to be delivered on the council’s behalf…This highly impressive improvement has incrementally been achieved from the previous Ofsted inspection in 2015 when all aspects of children’s services were judged to be inadequate.”

Speaking directly about TfC practitioners’ use of the Signs of Safety in section 8 of the report Ofsted says:
“At every level of the organisation, relationship-based social work is at the centre of the strategic and operational improvements to children’s services…An area of strength is workers’ persistence in developing relationships, which becomes the means for positive change for children and families. Strenuous efforts have been made throughout the pandemic to visit children face to face. Social workers know children and their families well. TfC staff are increasingly using tools from the chosen model of practice to work with parents and children. These are having a powerful impact on helping parents to understand what life is like for their children living with issues such as parental mental health, domestic abuse and substance misuse. Other focused, purposeful direct work is done at the child’s pace, helping children to understand what is happening.”

“Leaders and managers are confident, ambitious and influential in changing the lives of local children, young people and their families including cared for children and care experienced young people.”

Speaking about TfC’s work in the children-in-care and leaving care area the report states:
“Tenacious staff work tirelessly to ensure that children are at the centre of all work and interventions. Staff are strong advocates for their children…The whole service is highly aspirational for children’s futures, resulting in many achieving positive outcomes.”

Speaking about TfC’s leadership engagement with direct practice the report states:
“Leaders and managers are confident, ambitious and influential in changing the lives of local children, young people and their families including cared for children and care experienced young people.”

The strong focused work by the highly committed Chief Executive of TfC, the Director of Social Care and the senior management team has resulted in exceptional improvements being made, over the past six years, to the quality of social work support to children and families in Sunderland. An example of the excellent senior management drive for improvement was the TfC rapid focus on addressing the issues, impacting on a small number of children, reported on at the focused visit in March 2021.

Amongst the range of exceptional work seen by inspectors across the entirety of children’s services is the highly innovative multi-agency partnership work, delivering early help services…This highly impactful work has been facilitated by the robust support and the commitment of the Chief Executive of Sunderland City Council, the council members and staff across the council.

From the start of the Chief Executive of TfC’s appointment, she has rightly insisted that there needed to be a transformation in the culture of the organisation, focusing on the quality of practice and ensuring consistently good outcomes for children and young people. As a result of her focus on continuous improvement, a new and vibrant culture is now widespread across children’s services in Sunderland.

TfC introduced a highly regarded model of social work practice and has rolled this out across all its services. This is supported by dedicated and experienced practitioners and an extensive training programme for all TfC staff and multi-agency colleagues. While senior managers acknowledge that this is a five-year programme and more needs to be done to fully embed the model, inspectors saw many examples of where the implementation of this common approach was transforming children’s lives for the better.

This a small sampling of a very detailed audit report — the full report can be accessed here.