Venue: Council Chamber - Shire Hall, Gloucester. View directions
Declarations of interest
Please see note (a) at the end of agenda.
Cllr Brian Robinson informed the meeting that he was no longer a foster carer, and that he was in the process of becoming a member of the Dene Magna Academy Trust.
45.1 Richard Boyles Cabinet Member Children’s Safeguarding and Early Years, informed the committee that Ofsted was saying that overall the structure was where it should be, but we were still struggling with recruitment and retention of social workers, and the quality of some work was not yet as it should be. The pace of change was still not as fast as Ofsted would want it to be but it was moving in the right direction.
45.2 The committee was informed that 80/90% of managers were now permanent members of staff rather agency workers. Fifty ASYEs (Assessed and Supported Year in Employment) over the original estimate have been recruited this year, and the first of the social workers recruited from India would be starting soon. They would need to work through the Essentials programme at the Social Work Academy in order to get them up to the required standard.
45.3 Members expressed concern that Ofsted continued to highlight record keeping as lacking sufficient detail. They have noted that there was some improvement but that this was not consistent across the board. Ofsted discussed cases directly with social workers on their visits and were aware that the social worker was aware of the detail but would not have included this into the case file. In response to questions the Cabinet Member informed members that the LiquidLogic system had been re-engineered to better fit what social workers need to support them, eg. each entry field now had a prompt. The Essentials programme was robust and offered social workers the support that they needed. Unfortunately there remained some members of staff who were not applying the system properly. The committee was also informed that there remained some data sharing issues with some agencies.
45.4 The Director of Children’s Services (DCS) informed members that the EQLean external review had contributed to the systems improvement by streamlining the process (removing extraneous steps). Floor walkers were also in place to quickly react and offer support. This all helped but there was still more to do; this would take time. The improvement continued to be impacted by the level of churn in the safeguarding teams.
45.5 Members were concerned as to the impact of Ofsted letters on staff. The majority of staff were working their socks off and these letters must surely depress them. The DCS acknowledged that staff could become deflated but he did take the time to remind people just how far we had come in the last eighteen months, including better working locations, a good training programme, the social worker academy, improved ICT, better quality/audit processes. He also felt that there was positive support from across all political groups which helped and from the Corporate Management team.
45.6 Some members were disappointed and felt that the letter was saying that we were not progressing, and that the legacy issues remained. The DCS emphasised that the Ofsted monitoring visit had focused on care leavers which gave a narrow rather than broad view of ... view the full minutes text for item 45.
46.1 The Cabinet Member Children’s Safeguarding and Early Years presented the report on behalf of Andrew Ireland Chair of the Improvement Board who was unable to attend the meeting. He informed the committee that the central themes were that progress was being made but that challenges remained. The questions posed in the report at paragraph 4.4 were important challenges, he felt that the report did answer them sufficiently, but did emphasise the importance of investing in managers and effective support to staff; managers would drive the change. He was clear that we were still not where he would like us to be.
46.2 The Director of Children’s Services (DCS) informed the committee that he felt that this was a fair report, and the challenge relating to ‘middle’ managers was fair. He stated that we were improving but that it would take a while to shift people’s capacity to change. He also informed members that whilst he could see improvement he felt it important to note that this remained fragile.
46.3 The committee acknowledged that there was synergy across the Improvement Board but questioned what was being done with partners at the operational level. In response the DCS informed members that there was a lot of work in place with partners, and were ‘ahead of the game’ with regard to the (new) Working Together safeguarding arrangements. Members were also informed that there would be a meeting with partners on 23 October 2019 looking at aspirations for children and young people in Gloucestershire; this work (Child Friendly Gloucestershire) had the support of the Gloucestershire Health and Wellbeing Board. A meeting with/for Gloucestershire schools was scheduled for 12 November 2019.
46.4 Work was already in place with Health, and as already stated there was further work planned with the district councils regarding housing provision.
46.5 The DCS commented that with regard to health services things have moved on considerably as the children were now referenced in the NHS Long Term Plan where previously they were not.
47.1 The Head of Quality and Assurance Children’s Services gave a detailed presentation of the report. He highlighted that there had been improvement between May and August 2019, but stated that caution was needed. Whilst this was encouraging it would be important to see whether this was sustainable. The main area of concern continued to be in the Safeguarding teams. Some staff continued to be unable to formulate a quality plan for a child was at risk of harm. Work was still needed to improve the audit process itself, in particular being able to identify the impact of the process – the ‘so what’ question.
47.2 Members reiterated previous concerns with regard to the pace of progress in this area of work. Members did recognise that there has been some improvement but were not filled with confidence. Concerns particularly related to the not engaging with families, that the emphasis was on the process not the child, and the failure to understand and provide the risk to the child.
47.3 The Director of Children’s Services (DCS) acknowledged that we could not look at this as job done even though it was showing some Improvement. He assured the committee that no one was being complacent about the need to improve. He stated that good management and supervision were key factors in improving this area of work.
47.4 The committee was informed that the (new) Improvement Advisor was working to improve this position. The DCS commented that this process was increasingly becoming compliant but was still lacking with regard to quality.
48.1 The Director of Partnerships and Strategy presented the report. Ofsted had commented that the performance measures were not sufficiently detailed with regard to care and that this would be addressed. It was commented that whilst this report gave a good insight into performance it did not enable an understanding of the quality of the service, but rather supported our self-awareness and helped to drive forward improvement.
48.2 It was noted that the data did not identify how many children in care were in the criminal justice system and how these young people were supported. The committee was informed that this information was monitored through the Youth Justice Partnership Board. It was questioned whether there should be a link into this performance report, but that the information received at the Youth Justice Partnership Board could be shared with committee members.
ACTION: Andy Dempsey
48.3 It was noted that the Youth Offending Service would be inspected by HMICFRS the week commencing 14 October 2019. The committee agreed that it would be interesting to review the outcome of this inspection.
48.4 It was questioned why the number of young people NEET (not in employment, education or training) was flagged as ‘green’ when we should want to have a greater number of our young people employed or in training. It was explained that we were benchmarked against other cohorts, but the DCS agreed that we should have aspirations for all our young people in Gloucestershire, and that our aspiration should be closer to 100%. The DCS also stated that the council along with its partners were significant employers in the county and should be able to find ways to encourage and enable our young people to join ‘the family business’.
48.5 Members were very concerned with the situation with regard to the continued instability of social workers for our children and young people. Members were aware that the level of churn in the workforce was a significant factor, but emphasised the impact of this on the individual; the importance of a significant (and trusted) adult in a child’s life was well known. The DCS informed members that he expected that as the new recruits came through their training that this position would improve.
48.6 [For information questions had been received before the meeting regarding missing children. A full written briefing was shared with the committee at the meeting and is reproduced below: -
The process within Gloucestershire regarding return interviews is:
Ø If a child is not known to social care and is missing from home the RI is done by a member of the YST trained to do so.
Ø If a child is known to social care or is a CIC the social worker should try to complete the RI (in this way they have the information first hand to aid and inform the care plan etc.) If the young person wants to speak to someone independent, it is fed back to the YST who will do it.
Ø Each ... view the full minutes text for item 48.
49.1 The Finance Business Partner gave a detailed presentation of the report highlighting the significant overspends and the reasons for this position and the remedial activity. The committee was informed that PeopleToo had been looking at the way in which resources were allocated/spent in order to give a wider assurance to the council. The new Director of Corporate Resources was also looking at budget setting and new processes that should be in place for the 2020/2021 budget setting process.
49.2 Members wanted to understand how closely contracts were monitored. The Director of Children’s Services (DCS) assured members that a lot of work went into contract monitoring; that there was an increasingly effective commissioning team who brokered and reviewed contracts. He felt that previously practice had not been good enough. Challenges remained though particularly where a situation arose late on a Friday and he had no option but to agree what would most likely be an expensive placement; these instances were linked to quality of practice as they were not a managed move but had rather reached a crisis point.
49.3 The DCS informed members that there was more to do with regard to the budget and culture change; some managers still did not consider cost when placing a child. This practice would need to be addressed; it was not about a reduced service for the child but value for money and finding the best fit for the child’s needs. Practitioners needed to be more creative with regard to placements.
49.4 In response to a question the DCS indicated that the opening of Trevone House could have an impact on the cost of some placements but that it would be some time before the impact would be seen in the budget. It was important to remember that it would not solve the problem but would help. Prevention and early identification were key factors. The DCS had visited each of the secondary schools who were high excluders of pupils to discuss what could be done to reduce these numbers as being excluded could have a significant impact on a child’s outcomes. Restorative Practice was already making inroads in this area, and it was hoped that the work to become Child Friendly Gloucestershire would also have a positive impact. It was important to generate systemic change.