Agenda and minutes

Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday 13 September 2018 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.


Cllr Brian Robinson declared a personal interest as a Foster Carer.


Cllr Shaun Parsons declared a personal interest as a trustee of the National Star College.


Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 100 KB


The minutes of the meeting on the Thursday 12 July 2018 were agreed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.


Improvement Board Update pdf icon PDF 76 KB


34.1     The committee had a detailed discussion with the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People and the Director of Children’s Services (DCS).  Discussion particularly focussed on the workforce challenges and the plans and actions to redress this position.


34.2     The DCS acknowledged that recruitment and retention of social workers remained the biggest challenge for children’s services. He had previously discussed the actions being taken forward which aimed to remedy this position. He explained that the digital window had improved considerably with the website looking better than 2 months ago. The salary package for the hard to reach teams had recently increased; this has caused some tension and disharmony in some of the other teams which the DCS does understand, and he has met with teams to explain the reasoning for this move.


34.3     The DCS reinforced that the social worker market was very competitive and worked for the social worker rather than for the local authority. As previously discussed this was in the main related to the fact that councils across the south west were on the same improvement journey as Gloucestershire and were also competing for a finite resource, hence the need to use agency workers and the associated costs and challenges that came with them.


34.4     Committee members were pleased to note that the establishment of an Academy for Social Work has progressed and has now been approved to be a physical rather than virtual entity. It was hoped that one of the universities would partner us in this work. It was hoped that the development opportunities that an Academy could provide would not only encourage retention, but also help social workers see Gloucestershire as a good place to work where staff were well supported.


34.5     The DCS also updated the committee on the routes into (and back into) social worker posts. This now included an apprenticeship; the council was just waiting on the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) to sign this off.


34.6     The committee was interested in the ‘agile’ contract approach which could mean that social workers worked part time or even one day per week. It was agreed that whilst this approach could support the workforce, members did question the potential impact on the child and that this should not be at the expense of delivering consistent support to the child/young person.


34.7     Members discussed case loads, and asked what level the council was aiming for? The DCS explained that most ‘good’ local authorities operated at 18 or less. One ‘outstanding’ local authority operated at 10, but they were an outlier. There also local authorities that achieved ‘good’ with higher caseloads. The issue for Gloucestershire was the rate of churn in the workforce; and because of that churn there was a lack of consistency in the child’s experience. It was important to understand that this was not just about the level of case load but sustainability going forward.


34.8     The committee was informed that the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH)  ...  view the full minutes text for item 34.


Quality Assurance Framework: Progress Update Report pdf icon PDF 144 KB


35.1     The Head of Quality (Children and Young People) referred to the previous agenda item and informed members that from her perspective cultural aspects had improved enormously.


35.2     She informed the committee that along with colleagues work had been undertaken to take stock and look at the reliability of audit findings, and they were talking to staff to discuss what was working and what wasn’t. She was clear that it was important that this process was something that could add value to the process.


35.3     Members were informed that the development of practice was being undertaken through a phased approach and the report received by the committee demonstrated progress. Committee members noted the progress, particularly regarding the training programme to build the number of auditors. However, it was agreed that the number of audits currently being identified as requires improvement and inadequate was higher than members would like. It was suggested that improved metrics were needed to enable a clearer understanding of whether these audits were improving practice, and most importantly making a difference to the child/young person.


35.4     The DCS acknowledged members’ concerns and stated that this was not good news, but it was an honest appraisal. He informed the committee that each month the number of audits went up as more auditors were trained, there was still a lot to do, and it was important to look at this as practice improvement. Members reiterated that it would be helpful if the report was clearer on what was being measured.


35.5     In response to questions the Head of Quality explained that where a case was identified as requires improvement this usually reflected that the assessment had not properly got to grips with what the child’s circumstances meant – it was important that the child’s social worker understands what this means. She commented that, with fresh eyes, an auditor could often spot key aspects that might have got ‘lost’ in the first instance. The DCS stated that if these findings were related to risk audits identified as inadequate would mean that the child was potentially at risk. He accepted that the number of inadequate cases was unacceptable; this meant that there could be a large number of children at risk.


35.6     In response to a question the DCS informed the committee that as the service had not previously had a model of what good looked like the outcomes from these audits were used as development tools/opportunities. He was however clear that if the poor practice was repeated appropriate action would be taken.


Revenue Monitoring pdf icon PDF 97 KB

Additional documents:


36.1     The committee focussed much of its discussion on the external placement budget which was currently forecasting a £5.35m overspend (31% above budget). This was a complex issue. The in-house provision was full to capacity. The Director of Children’s Services (DCS) was leading a Panel which reviewed all high cost placements to check that we were delivering the right level of care and that the placement was value for money. This Panel has estimated that decisions made so far could save £1m in costs; this was linked to previous poor planning, and inadequate reviews.


36.2     Members were deeply concerned with regard to the sustainability of the budget given that this was only the first report of the financial year, and questioned whether the council had forecast correctly. The Finance Business Partner explained that the unit costs were not as had been expected, and that the service was picking up a lot more complex cases. The DCS informed the committee that good contract management was crucial, and although the overspend was significant actions were in place to address it.


36.3     The DCS shared the details of some cases recently reviewed by the Panel to demonstrate the complex issues faced by some children and young people. Questions that the Panel had considered included whether the original intervention had been effective or even appropriate. It was clear that early intervention and support were key factors. The DCS commented that that this work was a good window into practice and the council must learn from it. Some members of the committee were deeply distressed by some of the poor practice described by the DCS and the negative impact that this could have had on the child.


36.4     The Cabinet Member for Children and Young People stated that when he took on this portfolio he had worked to get a clear understanding of the position of children’s services. He explained that in the previous council the answer had been to put additional investment into social workers, but that no detailed work on the performance picture had been undertaken. He felt that there was now a better understanding of the data, and that this took away the excuses for poor performance and gave team managers the mechanisms/tools to be able to improve team behaviours/performance. For him the pace of change remained an issue, and the complexities brought about as a result of competing priorities.


36.5     Members expressed concern about the experience of these damaged young people as they transitioned into adult services. The DCS agreed that this was a challenge to the council and to the young person, not least given the funding differential between children’s and adults services. He informed the committee that at present the transition planning started at 16, although admitted that it did not always happen at this age. He informed members that the Assistant Director: Integrated Children and Families Commissioning was leading on a piece of work in this regard with adult services.


36.6     There was concern across the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 36.


Performance Monitoring pdf icon PDF 276 KB

Additional documents:


37.1     The DCS went into detail as to the data and information that he would be presenting to Essex County Council at the quarterly performance review meeting on 18 September 2018. He also informed the committee that he thought that the conditions for success were emerging. This was a huge challenge for the service with social workers trying to improve performance/practice at a time when workflow has doubled.


37.2     It was noted that the report lacked data on the number of people who have been trained and the level and quality of supervision; this would be included in future reports. It remained of concern that the council was higher than average for the number of re-referrals; this told us that we are not getting things right the first time.


37.3     The committee was also concerned with regard to school performance but recognised that the council has a limited role with regard to academy schools. Members were aware that there was a national debate on what should happen when an Academy Trust or individual Academy fails, and would be interested to note the outcome of this debate.


SEND - The Gloucestershire Offer pdf icon PDF 75 KB

The outcome letter (27 July 2016) from the joint local area SEND inspection in Gloucestershire is attached to the agenda as background information.


The committee will also receive a presentation.

Additional documents:


38.1     The Head of Services for Children with Additional Needs gave a detailed presentation on this complex issue, including the reform of the SEND agenda and the response to the Ofsted Joint Local Area SEND Inspection undertaken in June 2016. (For information the presentation slides were included in the agenda pack.)


38.2     The committee was informed that in the education world there was now a greater focus on support to SEND pupils. Gloucestershire was seen as an area of best practice. A lot of work had been done to improve the Local Offer including working with the Ambassadors for Vulnerable Children and Young People on how to best engage with these young people. The focus was on the child’s needs.


38.3     The committee welcomed that the council was challenging its thinking on how to use available resources, in particular the initiatives proposed to develop a support team around the school, and the innovative approaches to funding to better provide the right level of support to the individual. Members noted that restorative approaches were helping these young people in the education setting; this was welcome given the link between SEND and exclusions.


38.4     There has been an increase in the number of young people being identified as having SEND, this could be due to a better understanding of this area. There has also been a rise in the number of EHCPs (Education and Care Plan); it would be important to understand whether this reflected the child’s real needs or the system.


38.5     There was concern at the increase in the number of young people educated at home. It would be important to understand the underlying factors here; officers were working to build relationships with the elective home school community.


38.6     The committee was pleased to hear that officers were passionate about reducing the number of exclusions given the damage that this can do to the young person.


38.7     In response to a question it was explained that the council was bound by the timescales laid down by government. This meant that an EHCP could take 20 weeks to pull together, although in Gloucestershire the average was 18 weeks. It was stated that historically the best way to access schools funding was through an EHCP; as had already been stated the council was looking more at the most effective way to use this funding stream. Feedback from members indicated that funding was a challenging area for both schools and families.