Agenda and minutes

Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Thursday 11 January 2018 10.00 am

Venue: Cabinet Suite - Shire Hall, Gloucester. View directions

Contact: Andrea Clarke 01452 324203 

Items
No. Item

1.

Declarations of interest

Please see note (a) at the end of agenda.

Minutes:

Charlotte Blanch declared a personal interest as an adoptive parent, and Headteacher of the Catholic School of St Gregory the Great.

 

Brian Robinson declared a personal interest as he is a Foster Carer.

2.

Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 99 KB

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting on Friday 17 November 2017 were agreed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.

3.

Improvement Board Update pdf icon PDF 173 KB

Minutes:

3.1       Cllr Richard Boyles, Cabinet Member Children and Young People, was in attendance to respond to members questions. Committee members were aware that the improvement journey was anticipated to take up to two years but did want to understand when the council could expect to see improvements.

 

3.2       Cllr Boyles explained that the performance data was already showing that there has been improvement. There has been a significant reduction in the number of contacts received. Prior to the Ofsted inspection there had been an 80% attrition rate in the number of contacts received. The committee was informed that this had been due to a misunderstanding by some partner agencies as to our thresholds and how they were applied; workshops had been held with partners to help with their understanding. Liquid Logic has also been reconfigured to enable better tracking of referrals through the system.

 

3.3       The number of children in need was coming down; the number of children in care was going up; and the number of children subject to a child protection plan has also gone up. Cllr Boyles explained that these were positive indicators as this meant that children were not languishing in the system inappropriately but were where they should be. There were also no cases being worked  by managers, and as of December 2017 individual Social Worker caseloads in the majority of cases had reduced to the target figure of 18. 

 

3.4       The committee was reminded that the DfE had visited the council in December 2017. They had recognised that there have been improvements in some areas but also identified those areas where work was still required. There was no formal report from DfE in relation to this visit, just a verbal feedback.

 

3.5       Cllr Boyles updated the committee on workforce issues. He explained that although there has been a lot of work to try to achieve the full complement of social workers the council was still in the position where it needed to use agency staff, particularly in relation to the need to cover sick leave. He anticipated that it would be two years before the council was able to step back from a reliance on agency social workers. Cllr Boyles also explained that work was in place to re-design children’s services to enable better delivery of services. This would be more expensive, but would enable a better management structure, but more importantly a more effective service for our children and young people. He expected that he would be in the position to begin implementing these changes in March 2018. In response to a question he informed the committee that these costs were included in the budget.

 

3.6       It was agreed that it would be useful to see if the attendance at Gloucestershire Safeguarding Children Board meetings had improved post Ofsted.

ACTION:        Alison Croft

 

4.

Quality Audit Framework: Progress Update Report pdf icon PDF 76 KB

Minutes:

The committee had received an initial update on this area at its meeting in November 2017. Members had been disappointed with the picture of practice that that report had described and were disappointed that quality audits were not embedded within practice.

 

The report received at this meeting demonstrated that there has been a lot of activity to improve this position. There was now a core group of 11 auditors who had passed the auditor competency test, and Consultant Social Workers were working directly with front line social workers to improve practice. An external consultant was moderating audits, and has identified that these were good or satisfactory. However, audits also identified variable practice and that more developmental work was required.

 

The committee noted the next steps identified in the report and would want to see improvement in practice identified in future reports.

 

5.

Revenue Monitoring pdf icon PDF 98 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Finance Business Partner gave a full presentation of this report. The costs associated with the Children’s Service’s Improvement Plan were discussed and it was clarified that the £2.6m identified for this work would be drawn from one-off funding approved as part of the 2017/18 budget and the transformation budget, and was not part of the identified overspends.

 

The reasons for the school balances being carried forward was explained, in particular that this related to the pressures on the high needs budget. It was noted that these balances were reducing year on year.

 

In response to a question it was explained that the SEND team monitored Education, Health and Care Plans. It was explained that there were pressures coming through the primary sector; assessments were taking place earlier than before in order to identify needs earlier.

 

6.

Fostering and Adoption pdf icon PDF 375 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

6.1       The committee received a detailed presentation from the Head of Service – Permanence. (For information the presentation slides are available on the council’s website.) The Ofsted Inspection report had classified the Adoption Service as Good. Members agreed that the presentation and discussion had indicated that the service was committed to delivering the best placements for our children.

 

6.2       The committee was informed that it was important to understand that adoption was not the only route to permanence planning. Courts required that precedence be given to permanence in kinship arrangements wherever realistically possible. This means that there has been an increase in Special Guardianship Orders. 

 

6.3       The council had been early implementers of early permanence arrangements. 50 children had been placed in these arrangements since the start of the programme, and this approach was making a huge difference to these young people. There had been a big recruitment drive recently to identify potential foster carers; other local authorities were now asking us for help in this regard.

 

6.4       Members were informed that the early permanence programme was making a real difference to both children and foster carers, as was effective use of the Adoption Support Fund. Members were concerned to hear that there was uncertainty with regard to the Adoption Support Fund (ASF) post 2020. It was also disappointing to hear that each year the criteria for this fund had been tightened. The changes in criteria had meant that local authorities now needed to match fund anything over £5k. The change in criteria has been costly to the council; it has had to ask itself whether it was ethical to withdraw therapy/support that was making a difference to the child.

 

6.5       The regional adoption arrangements, Adoption West, were explained. The committee noted that Adoption West were still recruiting for a Director. The committee agreed to receive an update later this year to see how the new arrangements were working, and how these arrangements could be scrutinised by the local authorities involved.

 

6.6       With regard to the Fostering Service the recruitment of foster carers was a challenge, in particular, the service struggled to find enough placements for teenagers, parent and baby placements, children with very complex needs and those with high risk behaviours.

 

6.7       The committee was informed that following consultation with foster carers changes to the payment structure would come into effect from April 2018. These changes would make the process fairer, less bureaucratic and more efficient. In response to a question the Head of Service informed the committee that she was aware that a Foster Carer union had been established and in relation to this was working with the Fostering Network. The service had also been mindful of this when looking at the payment structure. She informed members that at a recent meeting with Foster Carers they had indicated that they were satisfied with their current remuneration package.

 

6.8       It was noted that autism was a significant factor among the children coming through the fostering service.

 

6.9  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.