The Government has stepped in to fast-track improvement at Sunderland City Council after inspectors found ‘serious failings’ in services for children and young people.
An Ofsted report warned local children were ‘potentially at risk of harm’ thanks to ‘widespread’ problems including inadequate leadership, poor services for care leavers and poorly managed support for children at risk of sexual exploitation.
After chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw urged education secretary Nicky Morgan to step in, a Department for Education spokesperson confirmed to LocalGov.co.uk that a commissioner for children’s services had now been appointed to ensure improvement takes place at the town hall.
Nick Whitfield, chief executive and director of children’s services for achieving for children at Kingston and Richmond on Thames will now work with the council to oversee improvement.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: ‘Inspectors identified serious weaknesses in basic child protection practice and oversight of services for care leavers, alongside poor leadership at all levels. In addition, the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB) is failing in its statutory duty to effectively monitor how well local agencies are safeguarding the welfare of children.’
Sunderland City Council’s leader, Cllr Paul Watson, said ‘a significant amount of work’ had been done to improve services but it would ‘take time’ for changes to come to ‘fruition’.
He said the safety of children and young people was ‘our number one priority’ and highlighted the ‘huge commitment within the council and from partners to making this work’.
Sunderland has seen a 26% rise in the number of children with child protection plans over the past year while the number of looked after children has climbed from 491 to 570.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘The safety and wellbeing of children must come first. Any failure in children's services is very serious and it is vital swift action is taken to tackle underperformance so there is a relentless focus on the protection of children.
‘This is why we have today directed the council to take immediate action, and appointed Nick Whitfield as commissioner for children’s services in Sunderland to ensure they take the correct steps to improve the quality of service children and their families receive, without delay.’