Agenda and minutes

Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday 16 January 2020 10.00 am

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

No. Item


Declarations of interest

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


No declarations of interest were received.



Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 92 KB


The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 28 November 2019 were agreed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.



Draft Transitions Strategy pdf icon PDF 106 KB


3.1       The Director of Children’s Services (DCS) informed the committee that this strategy was designed to smooth the transitions process from Children’s to Adult Services. The current process did not sufficiently support young people and their families. Feedback received included that for some young people and their families it felt like they were ‘falling off a cliff’ with regard to services when they turned 18. The report demonstrated the intent to manage this process in a more informed way, with better and earlier engagement between children’s and adult services. The DCS stated that previously adult services had not been able to focus on this process at a sufficiently early stage; the intent going forwards was that adult services would be involved at the 14+ review.


3.2       Committee members agreed that this was an important issue and something that the scrutiny function had looked at some years earlier. At that time it had been difficult to get children’s and adult services in the room at the same time. The DCS assured members that this was not the case now; they had a good working relationship with the Director of Adult Social Care. This draft strategy was a joint paper by Children’s and Adult Services.


3.3       The DCS informed the committee that the costs involved in in supporting some young people were significant and greater than some of the risks identified on the risk register. They had therefore added 20 of these cases to the risk register so that there was a greater understanding at the corporate level.


3.4       Members agreed that it was important that these young people received the support they needed in a timely and effective way. It was not an option for them to continue to feel that they were not being appropriately supported.


3.5       In response to a question members were informed that this paper had been received and approved by the Corporate Management Team, and the Joint Commissioning Executive. It was not known whether the Director of Adult Social Care was taking this paper to the Adult Social Care and Communities Scrutiny Committee. Members agreed to recommend that that committee receive this report.

ACTION:        Andrea Clarke (Completed)


3.6       It was suggested that it might be helpful for there to be a young adults service. In response the DCS explained that some local authorities had a 0 to 25 service, but this was not in place here. Whilst supporting the recommendations in the report members agreed to also recommend to the DCS that a 0 to 25 service might be a better way to support these young people, and that the DCS and the Director of Adult Social Care consider this option.


3.7       Members agreed that it would be helpful to receive an update on progress of the implementation of this strategy later this year.



HMIP Inspection Report - Youth Offending Service

The committee to receive a verbal update.


The Inspection Report will be published on 27 January 2020.


4.1       The Director of Partnerships and Strategy discussed the inspection which had taken place in October 2019.  They were unable to share the judgement as the report would not be published until the week of 27 January 2020; the delay in publishing was due to a challenge from the council, supported by the Youth Justice Board.


4.2       The Director informed the committee that the current inspection framework around out of court work was out of kilter with current practice, in Gloucestershire’s case the Children First programme. The Inspectors were complimentary about the Children First programme and acknowledged the low recidivism rate which was now at 9%. The Director was clear that if the service were to stick to the original model children and young people could end up criminalised.


4.3       The committee was pleased to note that the Director and the Head of Service Youth Justice and Community Teams have been invited to participate in a workshop on domain 3 of the inspection framework.


4.4       A committee member who worked in the youth justice system as a lawyer informed the committee that they saw first class work and commented on the expertise and professionalism of the staff involved in the youth offending system. They indicated that they had seen an improvement in understanding of the Children First programme across all professionals involved. Their only observation was that it would be important to ensure that training for all professionals, including lawyers, continued.


4.5       The member emphasised the importance of members of the public understanding that programmes like Children First were positive and that diverting children and young people away from the criminal justice system was a good thing.


4.6       The committee agreed that the Children First programme should be celebrated and was pleased to note that Children First had received a commendation in the Howard League for Penal Reform Community Awards Restorative Approaches category (November 2019).


4.7       Members of the committee were pleased to note that the funding for Children First had been secured, and was now part of the mainstream funding through the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner budget.


4.8       It was agreed that the committee would receive the inspection report at its meeting on 5 March 2020.



Improvement Board Update pdf icon PDF 94 KB


5.1       The Independent Chair of the Improvement Board gave a detailed presentation of their report and drew members attention to the conclusions in the report and the importance of applying forensic attention to detail and quality.


5.2       It was questioned why some members of staff still did not see the importance of the work involved in the improvement journey. In response the Independent Chair informed members that part of the answer was the turnover of staff. The other risk was that for some staff this was about seeing this as a series of tasks when what was required was to see this in the round and how all this contributed to a better experience for the child and their family.


5.3       In response to questions the Independent Chair agreed that it was reasonable to have expected to see more rapid progress; and stated that they were of the view that the outcome of the ILACS (Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services) would get over the line to ‘requires improvement’. They also commented that it was possible that the inspection team would look at missing children and young people when they arrived. They were clear that there should be no tolerance of inadequate work; a line manager should be aware where there was inadequate work and as part of the overall performance review this should be challenged robustly, irrespective of whether a local authority was expecting an inspection.


5.4       Members questioned whether there were particular localities that were experiencing particular performance issues. The Independent Chair explained that since they had been in position at least four of the localities had experienced problems, not all at the same time, and they related to the level of demand. This was an issue faced by all large local authorities. It was important that the service asked what more it could do, could it predict demand more effectively, could it take earlier action to mitigate?


5.5       The Independent Chair was asked whether they thought that the Improvement Board was having a positive effect on children’s services, and in holding partners to account? The Independent Chair stated that it had been effective and would continue to be so as there was still more to be done. They informed members that the partnership was now better than before. There was greater clarity with service providers. The position with the NHS had improved but there was still some way to go. The Independent Chair stated that Directors had pressed NHS Commissioners very hard and with some success – there was now a greater understanding with regard to children’s issues at a local NHS level. They did not feel that there was a specific issue with regard to schools; schools made decisions individually and it was therefore hard to generalise.


5.6       Committee members reiterated previous concerns raised at committee meetings with regard to the level of challenge by the senior leadership team of the council, including the Chief Executive. It was stated that if the right level of challenge  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.


Quality Assurance Framework: Progress Update Report pdf icon PDF 292 KB

Additional documents:


6.1       The Head of Quality, Children’s Services, gave a detailed presentation of the report highlighting that the November 2019 report indicated that there was evidence that the leadership team was having a positive effect on the system. They also drew attention to the case that had achieved an outstanding rating. However the process did show that the level of inadequate practice remained consistent and the pace of change was too slow; this related to practice fundamentals.


6.2       The committee was informed that the Ambassadors for Vulnerable Children and Young People were now more involved in the quality audit process; they have been challenging the language used in the audits given that these must be accessible and inclusive for families.


6.3       The committee was informed that the Director of Children’s Services (DCS) has retracted the use of discretionary exemptions from the audit process (this had enabled staff to opt out for two months) in order to increase the number of audits undertaken. Members were also informed that there would be another mock inspection of a service area this month.


6.4       It was questioned how teams accessed this data at a local level in order to be able to identify where issues were and act on them. The DCS explained that a web based performance system was in place that any team could access on a daily basis. The DCS could also access the number of hits on the database and who was using it. It was clear that those teams that regularly utilised this data were doing better.


6.5       Members reiterated their concerns with regard to what appeared to be a lack of progress in this area. The DCS advised members to compare the current position with the reports received 18 months ago which would demonstrate that progress has been made, and referred to the one outstanding piece of work. However members stated that there had been an improving trend but this appeared to have plateaued and it was of concern that this had happened and that progress was slow. The DCS acknowledged this and stated that they shared member’s frustration. They reiterated that change took time. The DCS informed the committee that they understood that the committee would see this as disappointing but from their perspective it demonstrated that the system was robust and not giving a rosy glow to the situation.


6.6       The DCS assured the committee that no cases rated as inadequate had led to the identification that children were being left in unsafe circumstances. Their view was that practice was improving, although the number of inadequate cases was too high.



Performance Monitoring pdf icon PDF 370 KB


7.1       The Director of Children’s Services (DCS) presented the report and informed the committee that the quality of the leadership team was making a difference. The self-assessment was in development and this process was led and owned by the leadership team. The self-assessment would include case studies and would be ready for when the inspection team arrived.


7.2       In response to a question the DCS explained that performance across the localities had waxed and waned; the most difficult locality to stabilise had been the Cotswolds as it had been difficult to get permanent social workers there. The DCS also stated that the Forest of Dean locality was now stable but that there had been dips; the DCS had noticed that the team manager was not using the database effectively and had raised this matter with them.


7.3       Where there was underperformance the DCS did not think that this related to belligerence but rather that people had been underdeveloped and not well led. Tools were now in place to better support and challenge people.


7.4       With regard to GP attendance at child protection conferences the DCS explained that their attendance was not always necessary at strategy meetings. However when it came to safeguarding matters they have a statutory duty to respond and would be negligent if they did not.



Revenue Monitoring pdf icon PDF 96 KB

Additional documents:


The Finance Business Partner presented the report drawing attention to the overspends particularly relating to the external placement budget. The underlying factors were discussed and members were informed that there were currently 330 external placements whereas at the same time last year there had been 294. There was a higher number than usual of secure placements and mother and baby placements at present and both of these were high cost.


It was questioned whether the budget would be set more accurately for 2020/2021; was there a better handle on the situation? The Finance Business Partner explained that it was difficult to give assurances for next year; the budget was set on September 2019 numbers so a degree of risk was already there. The Director of Corporate Resources was encouraging officers to put forward balanced budgets.


The DCS stated that much of the risk was due to the growth in numbers, previously the council had had a low number of children in care whereas we were now in line with our statistical neighbours. A higher proportion of these children were at the high cost end of the provision and this skewed the budget. This was why we were trying to provide more placements locally and were developing Trevone House, and trying to increase the number of mother and baby placements. The DCS explained that they wanted to assure committee members that the council was not out of kilter with regard to the number of children in our care.


In response to a question relating to where the cost pressures were the DCS informed the committee that essentially you either spent money on people or contracts. The Children’s Services Commissioning team had been established to improve the commissioning process and was making a positive difference with more robust contract management and work in place to look at how to best manage the market. The DCS also explained that they did not think that resources were an issue in Gloucestershire; the issue was that we had spent what we had poorly. This position would improve as practice improved and we were more able to access effective early provision. As practice improved the committee should be able to see an improvement in the overspend position.


Members were very concerned with regard to the ongoing pressures on the budget. They recognised that the council would be agreeing the budget on 12 February 2020 and that questions would be asked through that process. The DCS informed members that the council had received support and challenge from the LGA and their partner PeopleToo. The DCS acknowledged members concerns that the council must not be inefficient with public money, and assured the committee that the commissioning team was making a positive difference and there were now a number of gateways/controls in place that had not been there historically. The DCS was clear that we had to spend what we have well and without compromising on the child’s wellbeing.



Committee Workplan 2020 pdf icon PDF 67 KB


The committee noted the workplan.