Venue: County Hall, Worcester
Contact: Alyson Grice/Samantha Morris Overview & Scrutiny Officers
Apologies and Welcome
Apologies were received from Mr R W Banks and Mr P M McDonald.
Declaration of Interest and of any Party Whip
Mr S M Mackay informed the Panel that he had a close relative who was a looked after child in another Council area.
Members of the public wishing to take part should notify the Head of Legal and Democratic Services in writing or by e-mail indicating the nature and content of their proposed participation no later than 9.00am on the working day before the meeting (in this case 21 March 2018). Enquiries can be made through the telephone number/e-mail address below.
Confirmation of the Minutes of the Previous Meeting
The Minutes of the Meetings held on 25 January 2018 and 7 February 2018 were agreed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
The Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Children and Families and the Assistant Director Safeguarding Services (Children's Social Care) had been invited to the meeting to provide an update on the outcome of Ofsted's third monitoring visit following the report on the inspection of children's social care published in January 2017.
The Panel received a presentation from the Assistant Director Safeguarding Services (Children's Social Care). The following main points were made:
· Initial feedback on the Service Improvement Plan had been that, although it was very comprehensive, there was a need to focus on some specific areas. However, in taking this advice and prioritising certain areas, the aim had been to keep all areas moving forward. Although the initial focus had been on the Family Front Door, there had also been developments across the service.
· The feedback from the January 2018 monitoring visit had been that, although there was still much work to be done, inspectors were able to see progress. Feedback from the DfE Children's Commissioner was that the pace of progress was greater than could have been expected.
· It was important that the service made improvements that could be sustained in the long term.
· The additional financial investment in the service was welcomed and it was acknowledged that this was not easy for the Council to do. However, it was noted that extra money was not the solution to the service's problems and additional staff did not necessarily mean a better service.
· Feedback from staff indicated that they were now receiving good quality management and support but there was a need to ensure that this was recorded.
· In relation to the reduction in case loads, the aim was to ensure minimal disruption for children, although it was acknowledged that there would be some disruption as staff moved on and new staff were recruited. The best social workers often had higher caseloads but this was not a good situation.
· Social workers had now been organised into smaller teams with one team manager. The aim was for each team to look after approximately 100 to 110 cases. Managers would be in a stronger position to have (and record) conversations with social workers and have oversight of all cases.
· There was a recognition that all partners must contribute to improvement but this was still a challenge operationally.
· The monitoring visit had highlighted that, although the application of thresholds had improved, it was still inconsistent. There was still too great a reliance on agency managers in the Family Front Door but this was being worked on.
· Ofsted had reported that the development of a performance framework was very positive and an effective whole-system approach to quality assurance had been developed. However, the challenge for staff was to do this work alongside the day job. There was a need to build in audit as core business. The service was working to build a baseline of service user feedback as this had not been gathered previously.
· Workforce development remained a priority, with the authority aiming to ... view the full minutes text for item 317.
The Assistant Director Safeguarding Services (Children's Social Care) had provided the Panel with performance monitoring data for children's social care for 2017/18 Q3.
In the course of the discussion the following main points were made:
· It was agreed that for future meetings the commentary/analysis would be placed before the data tables.
· It would be helpful to have a breakdown and analysis of where referrals were from. Where no further action was recorded it was not clear whether this may relate to repeat referrals for the same child.
· With reference to return interviews for children missing from home, it would be helpful to have some analysis of the impact of these interviews and, again, whether the figures related to repeat incidents involving the same child. Members were informed that there was a great deal of data behind the figures for children missing from home. There were 3 full time missing children officers working on improved timeliness and a better analysis of information to feed into the strategic group. Having received an explanation about the data provided to the front line staff it was agreed not to add to the data presented to members for this item.
· In relation to Child Sexual Exploitation it was suggested that it would be helpful to have data for previous years in order to identify trends. Members were informed that accurate data was not available for previous years and this data would be used as a baseline going forward.
· It was confirmed that children missing from care figures related only to children in the care of Worcestershire County Council and did not include children who were the responsibility of other local authorities.
· A question was asked about the use of young boys as drugs mules with dealers trafficking them from other areas of the country. There were currently no statistics available on this but they would be dealt with on a case by case basis by social workers. The aim for the future was to bring together an overarching team of experts from different disciplines to improve coordination between partners.
· The Panel had been given data for the percentage of children who had had 3 or more placements in the previous 12 months. However, Members felt that, where the number of placements was particularly high, it would be helpful to know the actual number of placements that some children had and the reasons why. Members were informed that work was underway to support and train foster carers and residential placements to avoid placement breakdown.
· The fact that the number of children spending up to 12 months in care was increasing was seen as a positive sign. It showed that children coming into care were achieving permanency at an early stage.
· It was confirmed that the majority of children would leave care at 18.
· It was suggested that it would be helpful to know how many children had had multiple changes of social worker. It was acknowledged that this was a national issue, not just in Worcestershire. ... view the full minutes text for item 318.
The Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Children and Families and the Assistant Director of Families, Communities and Partnerships had been invited to the meeting to update the Panel on the development of the Alternative Delivery Model (ADM) for Children's Social Care.
The Panel received a presentation from the Assistant Director. In the course of the discussion the following main points were made:
· Cabinet had previously agreed to take 2 options forward: a wholly owned council company and a strategic partnership with another local authority. Members were told that the strategic partnership was no longer an option and the Council would be taking forward the development of a wholly owned company.
· A risk in this option was the perception that this was a form of privatisation. This was not the case; an important driver would be to maintain the Local Authority's value base as the company developed.
· Members were given a detailed list of the services that would be included in the scope of the company. All but 2 of the services (Targeted Family Support and the Placements Team) were also under direction from the DfE. The services included in the scope covered 620 fte staff.
· The Adoption Team and the Young Adults Team were not in the scope as they were part of a different delivery model and it was important not to undermine this work.
· The Company would be overseen by a Board, with non-executive directors being independently appointed. There would be approximately 9 members of the Board, depending on the skill set of those appointed. The Chair would be appointed in consultation with the DfE.
· Maintaining the democratic link would be a clear principle. It was important to remember that the company would be delivering services on behalf of the Council.
· The Wholly Owned Council Company (WOCC) would be a route to sustain improvement. There would be no quantifiable financial benefits and this was not about income generation.
· Concern was expressed about the high costs of setting up the company. A further question was asked about when the company could be disbanded and whether this could happen when the service was judged by Ofsted to be 'good'. In response it was suggested that, when the service was judged to be 'good', there would need to be a period to sustain this. It was confirmed that improvement work would continue alongside the development of the WOCC.
· In response to a question about what would happen if performance slipped further, Members were reminded that the County Council remained accountable, with the running of the services delegated to the company. It was important to ensure that this did not happen.
· Staff who transferred to the WOCC would retain the same terms and conditions and the same pension arrangements. The Company would be a corporate partner with a strong relationship with corporate support services (with approximately 85% buy back).
· In response to a question about the WOCC's relationship with Place Partnership, the importance of providing high quality support services was highlighted.
· The ... view the full minutes text for item 319.