45.1 Richard Boyles Cabinet Member Children’s Safeguarding and Early Years, informed the committee that Ofsted was saying that overall the structure was where it should be, but we were still struggling with recruitment and retention of social workers, and the quality of some work was not yet as it should be. The pace of change was still not as fast as Ofsted would want it to be but it was moving in the right direction.
45.2 The committee was informed that 80/90% of managers were now permanent members of staff rather agency workers. Fifty ASYEs (Assessed and Supported Year in Employment) over the original estimate have been recruited this year, and the first of the social workers recruited from India would be starting soon. They would need to work through the Essentials programme at the Social Work Academy in order to get them up to the required standard.
45.3 Members expressed concern that Ofsted continued to highlight record keeping as lacking sufficient detail. They have noted that there was some improvement but that this was not consistent across the board. Ofsted discussed cases directly with social workers on their visits and were aware that the social worker was aware of the detail but would not have included this into the case file. In response to questions the Cabinet Member informed members that the LiquidLogic system had been re-engineered to better fit what social workers need to support them, eg. each entry field now had a prompt. The Essentials programme was robust and offered social workers the support that they needed. Unfortunately there remained some members of staff who were not applying the system properly. The committee was also informed that there remained some data sharing issues with some agencies.
45.4 The Director of Children’s Services (DCS) informed members that the EQLean external review had contributed to the systems improvement by streamlining the process (removing extraneous steps). Floor walkers were also in place to quickly react and offer support. This all helped but there was still more to do; this would take time. The improvement continued to be impacted by the level of churn in the safeguarding teams.
45.5 Members were concerned as to the impact of Ofsted letters on staff. The majority of staff were working their socks off and these letters must surely depress them. The DCS acknowledged that staff could become deflated but he did take the time to remind people just how far we had come in the last eighteen months, including better working locations, a good training programme, the social worker academy, improved ICT, better quality/audit processes. He also felt that there was positive support from across all political groups which helped and from the Corporate Management team.
45.6 Some members were disappointed and felt that the letter was saying that we were not progressing, and that the legacy issues remained. The DCS emphasised that the Ofsted monitoring visit had focused on care leavers which gave a narrow rather than broad view of children services. He agreed that members were right to challenge him about progress, but reiterated that at the beginning of his tenure he had stated that it would take around two years to turn this service around and remove the council from intervention. He informed members that he felt that the council was on the right trajectory but not as far ahead as he would like to be. He explained that some factors had been harder to overcome than he had hoped, eg culture.
45.7 The DCS informed the committee that Ofsted had commented that they could see the principles of the Essentials training coming through. However not all staff had been through this training, and it was important to remember that the level of churn meant that there would always be some social workers who had not yet been through/completed the programme.
45.8 In response to member’s questions with regard to record keeping the Director of Strategy and Partnerships informed members that when cases were audited it was clear that some were very detailed. However it was not about the length of the narrative but whether it demonstrated that the risks to the child were understood. Ofsted were saying that they could not see the reflective information/the impact on the child. He was clear that this was not about one team or one person.
45.9 In response to questions the Cabinet Member Children’s Safeguarding and Early Years informed the committee that the leaving care offer was compliant with guidance but that the council wanted to do more than that. It was however important to remember that when young people left our care they were entitled to decide that they did not want support from the council anymore. There were also a small number who once they had left care we were not able to contact as we no longer had their contact details. He explained that we were working with the districts on council tax exemption and with all partners in order to strengthen the pathway.
45.10 It was suggested that it could be helpful to children in care and care leavers to know who their local councillor was. As a corporate parent the councillor should be able to support them. It was also commented that it would be important to ensure that all members of council were on board with regard to their role as a corporate parent.
45.11 Members asked for clarification with regard to the issues relating to appropriate housing for care leavers. It was explained that each of the six district councils had different provision. Whilst this was in the main sufficient there were exceptions to this. A meeting with the district councils would take place before the end of the year to discuss a standard offer across all authorities. It was noted that accommodation had featured in the last Brightspots survey and it would be useful to look at the outcome from the next survey. (Post meeting note: the 4-18 survey will run in November-December 2019 and the Care Leavers’ survey in January 2020.)
45.12 regard to allegations management the committee was informed that there were unresolved allegations going back to 2007. A new officer was appointed to the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer) post eighteen months ago and the picture was improving, although there were capacity issues. The service currently used a paper based system which meant that it was not possible to draw out themes; a new system was being procured to better support this process.
45.13 In response to a question it was acknowledged that we could do better with regard to tracking care leavers; social workers were briefed to be tenacious, but there was more to do in this area.
45.14 Members of the committee were aware that Ofsted would be returning soon and questioned what needed to happen between now and then for the authority to move out of an inadequate rating. The DCS stated that the council now had a lot of the features of a good service, but in terms of quality practice was still mixed. He felt that there are services which at present are at a requires improvement stage but there are still some business critical areas which need further improvement in order to secure an overall RI. The business critical elements were the safeguarding and assessment services – this was where the risk was. He informed members that to support the improvement journey a Improvement Advisor had been appointed to work with the Director of Children’s Safeguarding. The brief for the Advisor was to work with those teams that needed most help.
45.15 Prospects, which delivered youth support services, had been brought back in-house. The DCS felt that children’s services had moved on significantly since 2017. In order for things to move apace the necessary culture and staff needed to be in place. The DCS shared his frustration that when visiting localities messages agreed at the Children’s Services Leadership Team (SLT) had not filtered through to the frontline. This was concerning given that the minutes of these meetings were shared with teams. Information screens had now been installed in locality offices to better support information sharing.
45.16 Members questioned whether part of the problem with culture was that some people were comfortable in what they did and did not like to change. The DCS acknowledged that this could be a factor but was clear that whilst managers would work with these people poor performance would not be tolerated.
45.17 In response to questions the DCS explained the process going forward should the council be successful in removing itself from its current inadequate rating, and what would happen if children’s services remained inadequate at the next inspection.
45.18 The Clifton Diocese representative on the committee suggested that given the evidence from the ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) work relating to the significance of a trusted (emotionally available) adult in a child/young person’s development, particularly their resilience, that it might be helpful to link up with the ACEs Advocates. The Advocates could provide the role of trusted adult. The DCS commented that this could link into a programme that the Ambassadors run and agreed to follow up on this idea.
ACTION: Chris Spencer
45.19 The Clifton Diocese representative also shared their experience as a Headteacher of a junior school that the allegations management system took too long; there was too big a delay in dealing with allegations. They also commented that in their experience social workers were not always available when they were needed, and that it was important that people felt able to trust their professionalism, but that this was not always apparent.
45.20 The DCS acknowledged that there needed to be a conversation with schools around expectations. However, it worked both ways in that it was frustrating that not all schools left contact details in the school holiday periods in case of emergency..
45.21 It was questioned as to what level of challenge the Cabinet Member for Children’s Safeguarding and Early Years gave the Chief Executive (CEO) with regard to the improvement journey and his support for this work as there was a shared view that the CEO was not visible in this work. The Cabinet Member explained that he met regularly with the CEO and the Children’s Services Senior Management Team (SLT) to discuss and challenge progress. The DCS stated that generally speaking he received a favourable ear from the CEO, and that the CEO had visited some of the localities with the Leader of the Council in recent months.
45.22 The committee welcomed the comments relating to the CEO. However the committee agreed that whilst it was good that the SLT spoke with new starters they agreed that this was something that the CEO should also undertake to do. It was important to set the tone from the start around expectations and that support and leadership came right from the top of the organisation.
ACTION: Andrea Clarke
45.23 With regard to allegations management it was questioned why the committee had had to wait for Ofsted to visit in order to find out that there were problems. The DCS indicated that this was a small, but important part of the business. The earlier discussion had demonstrated that work was in place to address the concerns raised by Ofsted. The DCS was not saying that the committee should not be concerned with regard to this area of work, but that the greater risk to the authority were the assessment and safeguarding services.
45.24 [For information: with regard to the statements relating to children and young people’s mental health included in the Ofsted monitoring letter, members were very concerned with this situation and had requested a briefing from the Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group. The response received was that: -
‘A project is currently underway to explore what we can offer in terms of support for 16-25 year olds. This has included obtaining feedback from young people in this age group about where they feel the gaps currently are. We hope to align an offer of support with the trailblazer pilot in order to ensure a seamless transition between services so no young person is lost in transition or falls through gaps in provision. This includes young people who are in care or who have been in out of county placements. We are working closely with our social care colleagues to ensure a joined up approach. We know that half of all mental health disorders begin by age 14 and three quarters by 24, providing further evidence that the age of 18 is not the right time to attempt to transition individuals from Children’s Mental Health Services to Adults Mental Health Services. Additionally, evidence recommends that age 18 is not the optimum age to transition individuals between services and a later transition at 25 provides better quality of experience for young people and their families.
We are looking to develop a more tailored and personalised approach so that transition to adult services takes place at the most appropriate time for each young person, taking a more holistic view of their circumstances surrounding employment, education, housing and physical health care needs.
Whilst gradually building our flexible offer over the next two years, we will look to use the national evidence based approaches that will be made available in 2020 from NHSE to inform our final service model and subsequent phasing for delivery’ (October 2019).]