4.1 The DfE Advisor to the council gave a detailed presentation of the report highlighting that it was clear that the council knew itself well, and was presenting an improving picture. Her perspective as the DfE representative was that this was positive, but that it was important to maintain this focus and momentum; this had not always happened following previous inspections.
4.2 It was noted that it was helpful that the council had been successful in its bid to the DfE Children’s Social Care grant; this funding supported the Transformation Programme. The DfE Advisor stated that the council’s response to the pandemic had been really good; the senior leadership team (SLT) and front line staff had, and were, managing this situation well.
4.3 Challenges recruiting to the workforce was a national issue, and was recognised by the DfE. Gloucestershire’s decision to ‘grow its own’ social workers was a good one. The DfE Adviser informed the committee that she was impressed with the Social Work Academy. The committee was also informed that an analysis of exit interviews was undertaken; most reasons related to family issues.
4.4 Going forward it would be important to keep an oversight of partnerships.
4.5 The DfE Advisor stated that although ICT was an issue for many councils in Gloucestershire it was of particular concern and it would be important to maintain close scrutiny of this issue. The DCS informed the committee of the ongoing challenges with the council’s current ICT provider. The current situation was affecting performance and staff morale. He had been assured that colleagues in ICT were doing everything they could to address the current problems. The DCS advised the committee to wait until the new provider was in place before deciding whether it wished to scrutinise this matter.
4.6 The DCS acknowledged the point made with regard to partnerships. They informed the committee that it was often the case that issues relating to partners did not always become clear until there had been improvement, this highlighted the challenges. The DCS had written to the Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (GCCG) discussing concerns, particularly around the contact rate. It was clear that work was needed with the health community to ensure that the council’s thresholds were clearly understood; a lack of understanding in this regard meant that some children and young people were being inappropriately referred into the service.
4.7 Members expressed concern that the neglect toolkit, which had been agreed with partners, was not being utilised. The toolkit provided evidence as opposed to subjective views; this was paramount given the complexities relating to neglect. The DfE Advisor stated that given that there had been signoff of this toolkit that there needed to be clear messages disseminated across partners to ensure that the toolkit was used. This issue also related to the need for a change in culture such that staff recognised that they must integrate this toolkit into their role.
4.8 Members were concerned to read that ‘a dip sample looking at 19 children’s records identified that recording was largely ‘colour blind’ and failed to take a child’s race, ethnicity and culture, language, and religion into account’. The Interim Director explained that Social Workers were required to assess the needs of all children who came into our service. It was important to ensure that this was undertaken in the same way for everyone, we must ensure that there was no unconscious bias in our approach. The Principal Social Worker, in partnership with the Social Work Academy, has developed a training programme to promote the use of the ‘Social Graces’ learning tool as well as adding an additional module to the Essentials 3 programme to increase focus on equality, diversity and inclusion. It was also important to ensure that staff were treated fairly and equitably, work was in progress with the Black Workers Network on this matter.
4.9 Members were concerned with the impact of the pandemic on access to mental health support. The Ambassadors informed the committee that this was also one of their main concerns. The Interim Director informed members that they had regular discussions about this issue with health colleagues; it was on everyone’s agenda. The committee was also reminded of the recent children and young people’s mental health briefing, and that this would be repeated, as part of the member development programme, in the new council.