Agenda and minutes

Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Friday 17 November 2017 10.00 am

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

Contact: Andrea Clarke 01452 324203 

No. Item


Declarations of interest

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


Richard Castle declared a personal interest as a governor at Gastrells Community Primary School.


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



Minutes of the previous meetings - 14 and 25 September 2017 pdf icon PDF 83 KB

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The minutes of the meeting on Thursday 14 and Monday 25 September 2017 were agreed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.



Early Help in Gloucestershire - Families First Plus pdf icon PDF 1 MB

The committee to receive a presentation.


23.1     The committee was pleased to welcome the Head of Families, Communities and Partnerships, the Service Lead for Family Support and an Employment Advisor, a Family Support Worker  and a Family Group Conference Coordinator, to the meeting to discuss Early Help. (For information the presentation slides were uploaded to the council website and included in the minute book.)



23.2     The committee was aware that early intervention and prevention were important factors in supporting children and families; and wanted to gain a more detailed understanding of early help support in the county.


23.3     The committee was informed that Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance (2015) stated that ‘providing early help is more effective in promoting the welfare of children than reacting later. Early help means providing support as soon as a problem emerges, at any point in a child’s life, from the foundation years through to the teenage years’. It was explained that it was important to understand that early help was not a specific service – but is the help and support provided by a range of agencies including schools, health, children and family centres, voluntary sector etc.  Early help involves identifying  what was needed and putting together a plan of support around the family, and ensuring activity is coordinated between  the council and partners.


23.4     The Ofsted inspection (2017) findings on early help were positive and reported that ‘the restructuring of services  on a locality basis means that early help is becoming more responsive to local need; increasing numbers of children have an early help plan; and, social workers report that they have a clearer understanding of the services available for children and young families’.


23.5     Members were informed that there were currently around 2000 referrals a month to the children’s services ‘front door’.. The ‘front door’ has been reconfigured this year to improve the process for customers, to enable timely decision making for children (within 24 hours). Members questioned whether the flow through the ‘front door’ was analysed so that there was an understanding of the type of referrals, for example, whether they met the threshold for help, whether they were repeat referrals. In response it was explained that this was the rationale for the re-shape that work was currently underway to enable better analysis of the data. .


23.6     Members were concerned as to whether it was clear how to make a referral. It was confirmed that the ‘front door’ telephone number has been widely publicised and a lot has been done to ensure that partners knew where to go to get help/advice. It was still the case that the majority of contacts to the front door do not require a response from social care and that these were the children and families who are re-directed to our early help services.


23.7     The Employment Advisor informed members that he was employed by the DWP but was co-located within the council as part of the Troubled Families programme. This role provided financial expertise and a full understanding of  ...  view the full minutes text for item 23.


Ofsted Improvement Letter October 2017 pdf icon PDF 197 KB


24.1     The committee had a detailed discussion regarding the content of this letter. A significant discussion point related to the recruitment and retention of social workers. This was an issue that would not be resolved quickly. The council was drawing on the same pool as neighbouring authorities, who have also been judged to be inadequate. Work was in place to create an attractive recruitment package. It was noted that additional social workers had been recruited but that another 10 were still required to bring the workforce up to full strength.


24.2     The issues relating to the recruitment and retention of social workers were also a factor with regard to the size of caseloads. The committee was informed that caseloads had reduced significantly since the inspection, but were still not at the level that the council would want them to be. The Interim Director of Operations and Improvement reviewed unallocated cases and those allocated to managers on a weekly basis. The Director was clear that when Ofsted returned in January 2018 she did not want to see any unallocated cases.


24.3     Members were concerned to read that although our social workers knew and understood the children and families they worked with, that they were not recording the information appropriately on the system. The Director explained that this was part of practice improvement – ensuring that the social work teams understood what a good assessment looked like. It was stated that the experience and expertise of the council’s improvement partner would support and improve practice and inform a better understanding of what good practice looks like.


24.4     In response to a question members were informed that the letter indicated that morale was improving, but that sustained improvement would take time. From the following week all heads of service would be based in the locality, and would only come to Shire Hall for management meetings. Principal and Consultant Social Workers were now also locality based. The Director has visited all localities and also responds personally to any (staff) complaints that she receives.


24.5     There was concern that Ofsted were reporting that the Police were sending referrals in in batches. The Director informed the committee that she had discussed this with the Police who indicated that this was happening some time ago and was not the practice when Ofsted inspected the council. The Police were on the Improvement Board. The Police had also received an equally damning inspection (HMIC National Child Protection Inspections February 2017) and wanted to work closely with the council.


24.6     With regard to templates the committee was informed that those used by the council’s improvement partner were now being used by social workers.


24.7     A member of the committee commented that this letter and the performance data suggested that the council was slowly moving in the right direction. The Director informed the committee that it was a challenge managing the mixed messages received by the council. On the one hand it was stated that there was not a quick  ...  view the full minutes text for item 24.


Improvement Board - Update pdf icon PDF 73 KB


In response to questions the Cabinet Member for Children and Yong People explained that:-

Ø  The remote working facility was not about social workers working from home but rather being equipping them to be better able to record their work when visiting children and families

Ø  That the social worker recruitment package was due to be with him in December 2017

Ø  That the appointment process for the senior posts was ongoing, and

Ø  That the good practice brought into the council by the Interim Director posts would remain.



Performance Monitoring pdf icon PDF 198 KB

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26.1     The committee was informed that the Leadership Team was working to ensure that performance monitoring was embedded at team level. Performance surgeries have been held, and team managers were being trained to improve their understanding of what this meant for their teams.


26.2     Members noted that the performance report did show that there was improvement against some indicators and that the drift in the system relating to assessments has been addressed in the majority of teams; and the number of unallocated cases has significantly reduced.


26.3     The performance report was clear that there were concerns with regard to the Stroud and Cheltenham locality teams. Going forward the committee would need to ensure that this situation improved.


Quality Assurance Framework - How audits are being done pdf icon PDF 170 KB


27.1     The committee agreed that this report presented a very unsatisfactory picture of practice. Members agreed that quality audits should be an integral part of practice and agreed that to see that this was not embedded within the culture was disappointing.


27.2     The committee would be expecting to see an improvement in this area in future reports.


Revenue Monitoring pdf icon PDF 98 KB

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28.1     The Business Finance Partner gave a detailed presentation of this report. Significant costs for those children with complex needs remained a particular concern.


28.2     In response to a question it was explained that the costs relating to the Children’s Services Improvement Plan were being drawn partly from transformation reserves and partly from the children’s services budget. Work was continuing with regard to identifying future costs relating to this area of work.


28.3     It was also explained that the slippage relating to the IRIS project (Intensive Recovery and Intervention Service) was because a property had yet to be identified.