Agenda and minutes

Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday 25 November 2021 10.00 am

Venue: Council Chamber - Shire Hall, Gloucester. View directions

Items
No. Item

7.

Election of Chairperson for the meeting

Minutes:

Councillor Nick Housden was duly appointed as Chairperson for the meeting. 

8.

Declarations of interest

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

Minutes:

Councillor Emma Nelson declared that she had a pecuniary interest in relation to the Police & Crime Commissioner.

9.

Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 96 KB

Minutes:

During the discussion, members requested an update in relation to the outstanding actions as detailed at paragraph 4.20 & 5.9 of the minutes. 

 

Resolved

 

The Minutes of the previous meeting held on 16th September 2021 were approved as a correct record. 

10.

Safeguarding Children in Gloucestershire pdf icon PDF 605 KB

Minutes:

10.1    The Committee was pleased to welcome Dr. Marion Andrews-Evans, Chair of the Partnership and Dave Jones, Partnership Business Manager to the meeting.  It was noted that a copy of the Annual Report had been circulated prior to the Committee meeting. 

 

10.2    It was explained this was a true partnership of equals who worked closely together to ensure the safeguarding of Gloucestershire’s Young People.  Dr Andrews-Evans advised the committee that the Annual report detailed the work that had been undertaken.  The report reflected how the Partnership had operated and the focus groups which had undertaken detailed work on high priority areas. 

 

10.3    The Committee were advised that it was rewarding work and there had been a number of rapid reviews undertaken within the last year.  Systems were now in place to act quickly in terms of safeguarding and to ensure the appropriate action was taken.  As such there were shared, joint lessons and practices in places. 

 

10.4    The Partnership had received a visit from the Chief Social Worker for England, it was reported she came to learn from the Partnership as it was deemed to be an exemplar and was regarded as a very positive endorsement. 

 

10.5    Members wished to know if every child’s death was reported to the Partnership and how this worked in association with the Coroners Office.  Mr Jones explained that his team were notified of any child deaths in the County and they reviewed any death in terms of safeguarding.  They also worked closely with the Coroners Office who were directly involved with child death reviews. 

 

10.6    The Committee questioned the images used in the Annual Report, some members felt they were slightly incongruous given the topics discussed.  Some felt the pictures were more reflective of those children who led aspirational lives.   

 

10.7    Members were advised that young people’s mental health had declined considerably during the pandemic and the number of referrals had spiralled, therefore additional funds had been made available to provide the required support.  Dr Andrews-Evans explained the area required specialist staff to deal with the issues and given the employment situation, it was proving difficult to recruit the staff required.  It was noted that a Trail Blazer Project had been established in schools, as the key was to catch children early before more specialist help was required. The Committee were advised the Trail Blazer Project had received positive feedback but the long term implications were unknown at this stage. 

 

10.8    In terms of online engagement during the pandemic it had been necessary to work smarter in in order to reach young people.  It was explained that most of what had been put in place had worked well and would continue.  In addition nurses had found a higher engagement with health checks online and that would continue.

 

10.9    Multi-agency partnership working group attendance had improved by offering virtual meetings, as professionals could simply log in during their working day and not have to take time out in order to travel.  Virtual meetings had also  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10.

11.

Improvement Board Update pdf icon PDF 94 KB

Minutes:

11.1    Andrew Ireland, Independent Chair of the Children’s Services Improvement Board presented the report in detail, he explained that the Board had been very active since the last meeting. 

 

11.2    The Chair of the Improvement Board added that staff should be congratulated on their efforts, resilience and flexibility during the pandemic.  However, the Board recognised that fatigue was starting to take its toll. 

 

11.3    It was recognised that the recruitment and retention of staff was becoming more difficult and there was some re-emergence of agency staff issues, which inevitably put strain on the service.  Members hoped the long awaited Ofsted inspection would happen sooner rather than later, as this impacted on the recruitment of staff. 

 

11.4    The Board felt the service was moving in the right direction, however, they would continue to look at areas of concern. 

 

11.5    In response to a question, the Interim Director of Child Safeguarding explained that social workers once qualified were registered and reviewed on a regular basis.  It was noted where there were any areas of concern they could either self refer or be referred by the employer.  It was common courtesy if a social worker was moving on to tell the people they were working with and these issues were dealt with sensitively and respectfully.  As this could have a destabilising effect on a family if it was not managed well. 

 

11.6    Members welcomed the report and felt the findings were balanced.  The Committee felt it was a disgrace that Ofsted had still not set a date for the re-inspection and the delay was having immeasurable damage on the service and staff morale. 

 

11.7    In response to a question, it was explained that exit interviews were undertaken in order to gain an understanding of why staff were not retained.  The Chair of the Improvement Board added that he’d not had the opportunity to speak to leavers but he believed there was a mixed picture of reasons, which included ill health, career relocation, etc.  Officers explained that many people re-evaluate their careers and there were issues of retention.  It was recognised that exit interviews were valuable sources of information. 

 

11.8    The DCS informed the Committee that he had written to Ofsted regarding the delayed inspection, he recognised that it was having a negative impact on the recruitment of staff. 

 

11.9    Members referred to paragraph 2.5 & 2.6 of the report and felt these points were areas of concern.  The Chair of the Improvement Board explained that there were genuine staffing issues but the commitment from the Authority was there in abundance.  The Board recognised that the Council had done as much as it possibly could to recruit staff, however, the long standing Ofsted judgement was a hindrance and prevented the service from moving forward.  The delay had caused further uncertainty and reputational damage.   The Committee were advised that Ofsted had not undertaken any inspection visits during the last 18 months. 

 

11.10  In response to a question, it was explained that the Board had seen major  ...  view the full minutes text for item 11.

12.

Accelerated Improvement Plan pdf icon PDF 250 KB

Minutes:

12.1    The Interim Director for Children’s Safeguarding & Care presented the report in detail.  The Committee were advised that there was a clear commitment to see children face to face and during the pandemic the service had continued to provided contact and support.  The service continued to be focused on performance standards.

 

12.2    In terms of care proceedings during the pandemic, the judiciary system was disrupted, the Authority had established eight virtual court rooms to progress care proceedings to final hearings.  As a result of the court recovery plan, two thirds of all children subject to care proceedings would be moving towards a substantive hearing in the next couple of months, which was a positive move for those children.

 

12.3    It was reported there were currently 836 children in care in Gloucestershire, which had resulted in further significant final pressures and the service was overspent.  The workforce was exhausted but resilient and there was a premium on staff well being, as without them there was no service.  The service continued to be focused on standards. 

 

12.4    It was noted that the last Ofsted focus visit took place in November 2020 and Ofsted determined the Authority had done well at that stage during the pandemic.  

 

12.5    Officers explained that safeguarding teams were the most difficult positions to recruit too, given the specialist nature of the work involved, which had resulted in a pay differential.  It was recognised there had been a significant increase and improvement in the quality of agency staff CV’s. Children’s safeguarding work was a complex area which often took its toll on staff. 

 

12.6    In terms of locality teams, staff had been relocated to help cover areas.  However, recruitment was well underway and a company called Innovate had been engaged to address high level demand in the court arena, in terms of permanence reports.

13.

Performance Report pdf icon PDF 297 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

13.1    The DCS presented the report and drew member’s attention to the slight drop in the Performance Indicators (PI’s).  Members were advised that the PI’s were in accordance with other good authorities and shouldn’t be taken out of context.  

 

13.2    The Committee noted the report.

14.

Quality Assurance Framework pdf icon PDF 487 KB

Minutes:

14.1    Rob England, Head of Quality & Safeguarding presented the report.  He proceeded to explain that the performance report was more sensitive to change and that the quality assurance framework focused on a quarterly period, to establish a quality of practice. Through the quarterly performance there was a rise in inadequate practices, which was unusual for the Authority.  The signals in the system from the quality assurance indicators, suggested there was a significant turn from the previous positive trajectory.  It was necessary to have responsive leadership intervention now and this has already been activated with corporate support. 

 

14.2    The level of higher quality had been sustained for a considerable period of time, which proved there was evidence of the improvement journey in Gloucestershire.  There was strength and resilience in the system to provide the better quality service that children and young people in Gloucestershire deserved. 

 

14.3    It was noted there were 2 teams of concerns, compared to 18 months ago and leaders were aware of the issues. There were challenges in terms of timing of assessments that didn’t make the use of information available in the system.  It was recognised that the recording of assessments needed to be improved.   

 

14.4    In response to a question, the Committee were advised the DfE were close partners with the Authority and were in regular contact in an effort to support and improve the quality of practice.  Members were advised that reciprocal sharing of good practice arrangements were in place with other Authorities.

15.

Revenue Monitoring Report pdf icon PDF 90 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

15.1  Suzanne Hall, Finance Business Partner presented the report.  It was noted there was a £17.159m overspend, of which £9m related to Covid, which gave a net position of approximately £8m.  Members were advised of the key points in relation to budget pressures, which included external placements, which is the significant element, the cost of safeguarding staff, SEN in relation to EHCP plans and home to school transport. 

 

15.2  Members questioned the increased costs, it was explained that there were a number of strategies now in place to help control the budget implications. 

 

15.3  The Interim Director explained that children needed consistency in terms of placements, as circumstances changed and it was imperative to work in the child’s best interest.  A permanence project had been established to ensure children were correctly placed in terms of consistency for the child in care.  In addition, there had been a spike in the number of urgent care orders, in terms of safeguarding issues which inevitably had budget implications.  The aim was to reunify children with their families if it was deemed to be in their best interest.  

 

15.4  In terms of concern the DCS explained that it was necessary to intervene early to prevent children from going through the system.  If the right processes were in place in terms of early intervention and if done correctly children could remain at home with the right support and processes in place.  This would be the less expensive option.  Secondly the aim was to increase the number of in house foster placements locally, as external foster care placements were significantly more expensive.  

 

15.4  Members were advised that residential placements were the most expensive and the two most expensive placements would cost the Authority almost £5m this year. Members were asked to consider this point in the context of the overspend.  In response to a question, it was explained that the two cases required around the clock specialist care to keep them alive and safe. Members wished to extend their thanks to the staff that had to do what was necessary in these difficult circumstances.   

 

15.5  It was suggested that care company margins in terms of staff costs were significant, members wondered if it would be cheaper for the Authority to deal with an in-house service.  The DCS explained that as part of long-term care transition, the Authority were building a specialist bespoke facility to care for these young people to provide them security for the future.  Members welcomed the new approach of care.   

16.

Ofsted Annual Conversation Outcome Letter pdf icon PDF 109 KB

Minutes:

16.1    The Director of Children’s Services explained that the annual conversation had taken place, which had been challenging, however no insight had been provided in terms of the re-inspection date. 

 

16.2    The Committee were advised this would likely be last meeting for the Interim Director for Safeguarding and Care as her contract was due to end on the 31st December 2021.  Members wished to thank her for all effort and professionalism in conducting the role and wished her well for the future.