3.1 The Interim Director for Children’s Safeguarding and Care gave a detailed presentation of the plan. They highlighted that the evidence showed that the quality assurance work was moving in the right direction, and that monthly activity was in line with the action plan.
3.2 Family Court proceedings remained on track; a robust recovery plan was in place to support this work. The virtual court system implemented by Gloucestershire has been positively received by Ofsted, and recognised nationally.
3.3 Permanence planning has been a specific focus. A Permanence Project in is place, led by the Interim Assistant Director, with phases one and two having been completed. This process would be repeated in April 2021.
3.4 Being aware of members ongoing concerns with regard to the budget the Interim Director informed the meeting that the service was now in a position where it could more accurately forecast what the ongoing future budgets would be for placement needs.
3.5 The safeguarding of children and young people outside of the home was a significant concern. We were working closely with the Gloucestershire Public Protection Bureau on this matter, particularly to prevent young people becoming involved with county lines.
3.6 The Interim Director acknowledged that some areas remained hard to move on, eg. re-referrals. However, through a targeted approach staff and teams were being actively tracked to improve practice (the team improvement project), this was proving to be successful. The numbers were showing movement in the right direction.
3.7 The committee was informed that the service has moved away from ‘inadequate’ and was now in a more clearly evidenced ‘requires improvement’ position.
3.8 In response to questions the Director of Children’s Services (DCS) reiterated the (improvement) journey the council has been on since they joined the council. At that time the quality assurance process was rarely identifying a ‘good’ case, with ‘inadequate’ predominant. The current position showed how far the council had come. They informed members that reviewing the data on a quarterly basis showed a steady downward trend; 35% of case work was now considered ‘good. This improvement would continue as long as the focus was maintained. The DCS also commented that it was important to note that even local authorities classed as ‘good’ could still include a proportion of casework that was ‘inadequate’.
3.9 The Head of Quality, Children’s Services, stated that the trajectory indicated positive improvement; they were working to understand the variability in cases. They informed the committee that there had been a pool of weak practice, which had been fairly widespread, but was now seeing a shrink in the number of ‘inadequate’ cases and also in weak practice. There was a robust process around children of concern which was monitored at a senior level; cases were only signed off once all issues had been addressed.
3.10 A member commented that having previously expressed concerns it was good to see the improvement and consistency in practice. They questioned whether staff were being trained at the rate that we would wish to see. In response, the DCS explained that the essentials training programme was not being utilised as much as they would like. However this was a modular programme and at any one time a proportion of the workforce would be undertaking training; this training was complete once all three modules had been completed. Training had recently been discussed by the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and it was agreed that a refresh, and, reinvigorated approach was necessary to ensure that all Social Workers participated in the training programme.
3.11 It was questioned how the whole family was supported. In response it was explained that an intervention approach was used, based on a crisis intervention model. The key to the success of this model was to be able to respond quickly. The family have a single point of contact who was able to respond quickly and continue to provide support to the family for six weeks. The named worker would have other people supporting them, eg. specialist services for drug and alcohol problems and financial advice. This model was aimed at older young people; this cohort presented the most challenges for the service in Gloucestershire. This was in essence a wrap around service.
3.12 With regard to questions relating to where the weakest practice was and whether this cut across both permanent and agency staff it was explained that there was no correlation between teams where there were agency staff and other teams. If agency staff were not meeting the required standard the service was robust at exiting them; permanent staff would be subject to formal proceedings relating to competency. This was where the team improvement project came in, working with teams and staff where there was the weakest practice. It was important to note that the number of agency staff had now significantly reduced. The DCS added that a degree of stabilisation of the workforce was still required. There were a number of interim appointments and these posts needed to be filled on a permanent basis. This included posts at the senior level.
3.13 The DCS acknowledged that there were still services that needed to improve, but that by and large these were at the macro level.