Children’s Safeguarding and Early Years
4.1 Cllr Richard Boyles, Cabinet Member for Children’s Safeguarding and Early Years, outlined the commissioning intentions for 2020/21. He stated that the service was projected to overspend in light of pressure on the budget primarily due to external placements that had risen from an average of £50,000 per child to £99,000. The use of agency staff also continued to add to those budget pressures. The draft budget included additional investment of £14.94 million to support vulnerable children, allow for additional social workers, fostering allowances and other staff costs.
4.2 In order to mitigate the risks and challenges associated with high cost placements, Trevone House had been developed. This would ensure appropriate placements for children in care at a lower cost and allow them to remain in county.
4.3 Some members questioned what provision was being put in place for Early Years prevention work, particularly for children in the first 1001 days. It was confirmed that it was important to provide intervention at the earliest stage when it was at its lower level and this included intervention work pre-birth. Members noted the increases within the budget of £917,000 for early years-improving outcomes for children, as well as £65,000 for additional capacity. This in conjunction with a joint project with Swindon represented a big proportional increase in spending in early years.
4.4 One member asked how the transition period for young people between the ages of 18-25 was managed and how that was reflected in the budget. The Care Leavers Strategy outlined a list of all the support being provided to care leavers including council tax relief and access to community health and fitness centres. This was an evolving document. A Joint Transition Strategy was also being developed with Adult Services to better identify young people at an earlier stage to help them through the transition into other services.
4.5 With regards to Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP), it was explained that once a decision was made to initiate an EHCP the team were hitting their targets in terms of timeliness. Members suggested that there were delays earlier in the process. It was explained that potentially this centred around the need for an Educational Psychologist report and that the budget included an extra post so that should help improve the service.
4.6 It was clarified that Trevone House would have 18 beds available in addition to ones held for use by the Police and NHS. Rooms would need to be kept free to allow for emergency placements so there was no plan to run at full capacity. The budget assumption was that there would be an average of 12 individuals there in year one.
4.7 Members expressed concern regarding the escalation in the Children’s budget over the years and the potential impact on other areas of the Council’s budget and reserves. It was explained that the budget was being constantly monitored and assessed. The amount in the draft budget equated to similar levels as other councils and it was suggested that there had been some catching up to do. It was felt that this was the right amount to support our young people. There was a focus on looking to reduce high cost placements and make sure the support was right. It was stated that the number of children in care in Gloucestershire was only slightly above the national average (by 2.3 per 10,000). The Council was still on an improvement journey and practice was still not always ‘good’; there was a link between good practice and cost effectiveness. As practice improved, pressures should reduce and the budget should come back into control.
4.8 One member requested what the placement costs would be at Trevone House. This information would be provided.
ACTION Chris Spencer
4.9 Another member emphasised the importance of considering all of the Council’s assets when assessing properties that could allow for in-house provision for young people. Members were urged to look at the Sufficiency Strategy which set out key elements of what would be developed locally to meet the needs of the cohort.
4.10 Members were informed that the highest cost placement was £28,000 per week. This particular cost was shared with the health colleagues as it was a placement they had commissioned and was for a young person with some very specific needs. This was a short term placement as the young person transitioned into adult services. One member suggested that consideration should be given to establishing more specialist residential facilities in Gloucestershire with the cost and benefits potentially shared with neighbouring counties.
4.11 The number of social workers had been increased to circa 400 while reducing agency staff. In some areas agency teams had needed to be employed to meet the demand. There had been over recruitment of social workers in order to reduce the number of agency workers from 188 to 133. It was anticipated that in six months time, through ‘growing our own’ social workers, the agency worker numbers would be below 100.
4.12 One member asked in the event that Ofsted rated the service inadequate or requiring improvement, would additional funding be required which was not already included in the draft budget? It was stated that it would take time to make the improvement needed to take the service to a ‘good’ rating, with work underway to stabilise and develop the workforce. If the service was rated ‘inadequate’ then a Commissioner could be appointed to review the whole service and would make a decision on how to take that forward, including budget requirements. Work was underway to support the service so that this was not necessary.
4.13 Cllr Patrick Molyneux emphasised the importance of education within his portfolio and outlined how the Council worked with partners including schools through the Schools’ Forum. The budget was detailed within the papers for members’ consideration. He explained how the development of skills through schools and apprenticeships was vital to provide the best opportunities.
4.14 One member queried the cost reduction of £250,000 identified as ‘reduce capacity for intervention and support for maintained schools’. A written response would be provided.
ACTION Chris Spencer
4.15 Another member queried the reduction in home to school transport budget and how that might impact young peoples’ access to education. In response it was explained that this was monitored closely and that it was important to find efficiencies in a much pressurised budget.
4.16 It was noted that there would be a redesign of alternative provision. This would include the configuration of the provision and assessing the capacity required.