Agenda and minutes

Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday 9 March 2023 10.00 am

Venue: Committee Room - Shire Hall, Gloucester. View directions

No. Item


Apologies for absence


1.1 Cllr Lisa Spivey substituted for Cllr Ben Evans


Declarations of interest

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


2.1 Cllr Rebekah Hoyland declared and interest as a mentor for Children and Girls.


2.2 Cllr Andrew Miller declared an interest as a foster carer for GCC.


Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 104 KB

Additional documents:


3.1 The minutes of the meeting held on 12th January 2023 were accepted and signed.


Early Intervention & Help pdf icon PDF 102 KB

The Committee is asked to note the report.


4.1 Ann James, Director of Children’s Safeguarding and Care, presented this report. She explained that the report focused on areas of development, work that was underway and the impact of that work. An Early Help Sub Group had been formed and an Early Help Strategy was being developed. There had also been efforts to rebrand the approach to circumstances of parental conflict to focus on the strengths of child-parent relationships. The officer explained that the majority of families involved in social work were experiencing violence or had experienced violence so it was important to intervene early and build family cohesion. There was also a better than target proportion of people being referred to social work services after having been supported by early help, indicating that these interventions were being successful.

4.2 A member asked how adverse childhood experiences were being targeted within this strategy. The officer explained that childhood trauma can take many different forms and that the approach used was to bring together a trauma informed relational approach with a systemic approach. It was important to raise awareness across all services within Children’s Services and ensuring that the earliest interventions are equipped to respond appropriately to cases of trauma and to help children heal beyond their trauma.

4.3 A member asked whether this support would be universal or targeted and how it fit in with the work of other services such as Home Start that provided home visits. The officer explained that the Council’s Early Help service offerings were targeted, but that Early Help co-ordinators were working within the community network and universal services such as schools to build capacity within universal services. Funding for the Supporting Families Programme was delivered by hitting targeted needs criteria and outcomes. Chris Spencer, Director of Children’s Services, added that there were efforts to look at making contracts in a way that could capitalise on the voluntary sector such as organisations like Home Start to support Early Help.

4.4 There was also discussion over how the Family Hubs model would provide universal initial access with targeted support afterwards and that the decision around Family Hubs had been delayed. This was so that Family Hubs were set up in the best way possible.

4.5 In response to more questions about Family Hubs and performance, it was explained that the current performance beyond targets was confirmed by the Officer for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED). It was also explained that Family Hub success was be measured in comparison to current performance.

4.6 It was suggested that it would be beneficial to come back to Committee with a review of Family Hub development once it had been put in place.

ACTION – DSU to add a Family Hub Review to the long-term work plan.

4.7 A member asked for clarification around payment by results. The officer explained that those were dependent on KPIs (key performance indicators) such as school attendance, reduced worklessness, reduced drug and alcohol use and reduced domestic abuse.

4.8 It  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.


SEND Services Update Report pdf icon PDF 116 KB


5.1 Kirsten Harrison, Director of Education, presented this report. She explained that the government had made announcements around Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) services on the 2nd of March 2023 and that these were not included on the report due to the short notice. The officer explained that SEND was a broad system which spread across a number of services and that the SEND improvement plan published by the government still required further detail. The officer highlighted data in the report that outlined a 61% increase in demand on SEND in Gloucestershire. She also highlighted that a Gloucestershire SEND inspection was due imminently. She also explained that new schools were being opened to meet the SEND demand, and the Early Years Assessment Centre pilot had opened to support mainstream schools to take on SEND students and to support parents of SEND students to feel comfortable with mainstream schools. Serious concern was raised over the resources available for high needs SEND children particularly given two bids made recently for special school build projects were unsuccessful.

5.2 A member raised concern over a recent report that pre-school care was around £15,000 annually which might prevent people from wanting to get back to work. The member asked whether there were sufficient free spaces for SEND pre-school care. The officer explained that they were working very hard to ensure place sufficiency and it was being maintained but there was some difficulty maintaining staff. The service would ideally have a range of provision options to meet the needs of families with different requirements but certain provisions, like child minders, were decreasing. Nurseries were having to step in in such cases, but they might not be the ideal care provider in those cases, and it was becoming more expensive to provide pre-school care.

5.3 A member noted that a significant number of children were awaiting assessments. The officer explained that there had been a rise in direct demand from parents for assessments without the support of the school and this was contributing to the longer list of children awaiting assessments. The officer stressed that there is often a parental perception that specialist support is required when young people’s outcomes are typically better in the mainstream school system. A shortage in educational psychological expertise was also slowing down assessments.

5.4 The officer also explained that they had been successful with an MTFS bid which would support taking on more staff to help ease caseload pressure, but this wouldn’t solve the wider issue of a lack of high-level expertise. It was also suggested that reviewing recruiting practices would help make sure the right people are getting hired.

5.5 In response to a question about the new dual-system that was being implemented in April for all Education Health and Care Plan students (EHCPs) and Special School Students, the officer explained that the new system had been co-developed with schools and that two rounds of piloting with different schools had successfully demonstrated that the new system was better  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.


Sufficiency Strategy

To receive a verbal update


6.1 Chris Spencer gave a verbal update on the sufficiency strategy. He explained that it would be necessary to intervene in some way to improve the provision for young people. In particular, the market had not delivered enough good quality local provision, and this would not change without the County Council’s intervention. Reports did suggest that investing in social care would be profitable long-term. There was a question over whether the Council should get involved directly or work with a partner. There were about 26 projects overall in the Sufficiency Strategy and the strategy had been renamed to ‘Home at the Heart’. It was explained that too many children were in residential provision that were costly (£5000/week), were a long way from home and did not have great outcomes. Foster placement was the preferred provision to increase, with about 2/3 of fostering being run in-house, the rest provided by independent fostering agencies which were more expensive.

6.2 It was suggested that a sufficiency strategy report be brought to this Scrutiny Committee in May.

ACTION – DSU to add a sufficiency strategy report for the May meeting.

6.3 In response to a question about where the provision was currently, it was explained that all provision was being contracted out. Even Trevone House, which was owned by the County was contracted out to Homes to Inspire. It was explained that as there was a lack of providers in the market, it was becoming more likely that the Council would need to provide its own care provisions.

6.4 The officer agreed with a member who suggested that prevention would be a critical approach for supporting the County’s young people.

6.5 A member raised concern about early intervention where children were kept within their own families. The officer accepted that that risk was always present but explained there were likely more scenarios where children were removed from their family when they should not have been than scenarios where children were kept with their families when they should not have been. He explained that it was always important to risk assess each case very carefully. 



Trevone House Interim Report

To receive a verbal update.


7.1 Chris Spencer gave a verbal update having received the Trevone House interim report on the morning of the 9th March 2023. He highlighted that there were a number of different investigations going on and went through each one for clarity.

-          There was a police investigation into the death of a young person at Trevone House. That had concluded and the police had decided not to press charges against any individual or the organisation.

-          There was an internal investigation by Homes to Inspire which reported that there was learning to be made but there was no indication of systemic failure.

-          There was a GCC led review into the death through the Gloucestershire Safeguarding Children Board. Whilst the person was over 18, they were following the Child Death Overview Process as it was a more vigilant process than the adult equivalent. That report was still underway.

-          There was an inspection of the wellbeing suites at Trevone House. At the last inspection 2 or 3 of the 5 dimensions evaluated were deemed as needing improvement. In this most recent inspection, all 5 dimensions were rated as good.

-          The Institute for Public Care (IPC) and Oxford Brookes University were commissioned to carry out an evaluation of the Trevone House model and this agenda item was about this review.

7.2 Indications from this interim report were that the model was sound, and it was delivering positive outcomes for young people who lived at Trevone House. The interim report highlighted that the full evaluative study was ongoing, and the report had not yet been able to benchmark the model in comparison to alternative provision.

7.3 A member asked if it would be possible to see the internal Homes to Inspire report and whether the enquiry into the young person’s death was a serious case review. It was explained that it didn’t meet the threshold for a serious case review, so it was following the Child Death Overview Process. The officer also explained that he would check whether he can share the internal report but that if he could then he would share it.

ACTION – Chris Spencer to explore sharing the Homes to Inspire internal investigation report.

7.4 A member expressed an interest in having unbiased viewpoints from ambassadors for Trevone House. It was explained that the Trevone House review would explore the lived experiences of 15 young people who were associated with Trevone House and 15 young people from each of the comparison provisions.

7.5 In response to a question about whether unregulated accommodation was used for children in care in Gloucestershire, it was explained that at any one time there were usually 3 or 4 young people living in unregistered provision. It was explained that whilst those properties were unregistered, they were thoroughly investigated by Children’s Services and that the Director of Children’s Services was personally liable for the young people living in those accommodations.



Bright Spots Survey Results pdf icon PDF 2 MB

The Committee is asked to note the report.


8.1 Mark Bone, Head of Services for the 11-25 Permanency Team, and Dan Gillingham, Head of Services for Children’s Commissioning, gave an overview of the results of the Bright Spot Survey. This survey investigated the views of young people in care about their experiences. It was highlighted that Gloucestershire was doing well in comparison to other Counties on metrics such as young children in care’s trust in the adults caring for them, their sense of safety and their satisfaction with their home and school environment. Survey results for care leavers were also presented. Loneliness, at 9%, was highlighted as better than other Local Authorities but still an area for concern alongside a number of care leavers reporting that they did not have good friends and were struggling to get by financially. The issue of social worker continuity was also flagged in these surveys. It was also explained that the surveys would be moving to once every two years to allow more time for implementation of improvements.

ACTION – DSU to add a Bright Spots Survey report to Committee in 2025

8.2 A member raised concern over ratings of low life satisfaction but wondered whether it was a volatile measure based on recent events. The officer explained that the exact question asked was ‘How did you feel today, and how did you feel yesterday?’ and agreed that that might be reflective of a recent bad day at school rather than a long-term lack in life satisfaction.

8.3 Another member asked for greater clarity over a comment about foster carers’ abilities to decide rules without social workers getting involved. The officer explained that there was a formal agreement that outlined which decisions would need to be referred to a social worker. They did try to delegate as much authority as possible to the foster carer, and that the longer a child was with their foster parents, the more authority those parents were given.

8.4 There was also a wide discussion around response rates which had dropped significantly. Members queried whether the appearance of improved responses might have been driven by less satisfied children simply opting to no longer respond. The officer explained that this survey did coincide with public examinations (SATs and GCSEs) which might have made it more difficult for students to respond to the survey. It was also explained that the results of the survey were triangulated with other forums such as the online pupils survey and the child in care reviews.

8.5 It was proposed by members and officers that the positive responses may well be overly positive given the less representative sample. It was also proposed that children in care may be responding as positively as they had due to how much better their foster or care experience was in comparison to what they had before. The Ambassador for Vulnerable Children and Young People highlighted that children at the forums filled out surveys in groups and her experience was that children had productive discussions whilst filling out those  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.


Performance Report pdf icon PDF 274 KB

Additional documents:


9.1 The performance report was noted.


Work Plan pdf icon PDF 60 KB


10.1 In response to a question about the GCC communications team, it was explained that a marketing communications officer would be brought to a future meeting to discuss what work they were doing around fostering.

10.2 It was also explained that previously a brand agency had given GCC and offer to help with recruitment but that offer had not been taken up. It was explained that a communications plan for foster recruitment would be included in the plan for increasing foster placements and carer. It was further stressed that GCC should be working harder to communicate recruitment plans and events through the communications team.


10.3 The following updates to the work plan were also noted:

- A Sufficiency Strategy report to be brought to the May 2023 meeting

- A Fostering and Adoption report to be brought to the May 2023 meeting

- The Pulse Survey to be brought to the July 2023 meeting