Venue: County Hall, Worcester
Contact: Alyson Grice/Samantha Morris Overview & Scrutiny Officers
Apologies and Welcome
Apologies were received from Ms P Agar, Mr B Allbut and Mrs F M Oborski. Members were informed that, as the Chairman had given apologies, the meeting would be chaired by the Vice Chairman, Mrs J A Potter.
To accommodate Officers' availability, the Chairman agreed to alter the order of the agenda items. Items 6 and 7 would be taken first, followed by item 5 and then item 8.
Declaration of Interest and of any Party Whip
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 13 September). Enquiries can be made through the telephone number/e-mail address below.
Confirmation of the Minutes of the Previous Meeting
The Minutes of the Meeting held on 8 August 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 provide an update on the outcome of Ofsted's fifth monitoring visit which had taken place on 11 and 12 July 2018.
The Assistant Director provided Members with a presentation. The following main points were made:
· The outcome of the visit was a continuation of the positive trajectory of previous monitoring visits. The service was making positive progress but there was still more to do.
· There remained a need to establish a consistent quality of service to all children in all parts of the service. This would require the recruitment and retention of good quality social workers.
· The aim was to ensure sustained improvement. It was acknowledged that there was no quick fix.
· The service aimed to achieve a life-long positive impact and decisions needed to be the right ones for now and for the long term.
· The July visit had confirmed a growing stability in the workforce with successful recruitment and reduced staff turnover. Social worker morale was improving with staff feeling challenged and supported.
· Increased staff stability meant that 74% of children now had had 3 social workers or less. This was a positive statistic. In relation to agency staff, the service was running at 61% permanency. Ofsted had reported that the revised operating structure was working well, with each manager having oversight of approximately 100 cases, allowing for more regular supervision. It was important that this was reflective supervision as well as decision making.
· 'Signs of safety' (the new model for working with children and families) was also being used as the model for social worker supervision. Although this model was being used more widely by social workers, there was still a degree of inconsistency in how it was being recorded.
· Ofsted had noted an overall increase in social workers' confidence and highlighted that assessments that had commenced in the last eight months were consistently of good quality. Of the six social work teams, five now had a permanent manager.
· A programme of training for partner agencies on 'Signs of Safety' had just commenced. This would include schools, the health service and staff in targeted early help.
· The importance of finding time to reflect was emphasised. This was hard to do but it was important that it became part of core business.
· The next Ofsted monitoring visit would take place on 2 and 3 October and would focus on children in care.
Members were given an opportunity to ask questions and the following main points were raised:
· In response to a question about the reasons for 'drift and delay' as referred to in the Ofsted letter, Members were reminded that a change of social worker might cause a case to drift as a new social worker would take time to pick up the work and build a relationship with the child and family. Also, social workers had to deal with competing priorities. For example, if a ... view the full minutes text for item 336.
The Cabinet Member for Children and Families and the Assistant Director Safeguarding Services (Children's Social Care) attended the meeting to present performance monitoring data for children's social care 2018/19 Q1.
Members were invited to ask questions and the following main points were made:
· It would be helpful to have figures for previous years to allow identification of trends. It was confirmed that this would be provided for future reports.
· Members were informed that, where national comparator information was available, it was provided in the report.
· Concern was expressed that the newly appointed Missing Children Officers were only responsible for conducting welfare return interviews with children placed by Worcestershire County Council. Children placed in Worcestershire by other local authorities remained the responsibility of the placing authority. Historically, the likelihood of a child running away was higher if a child was placed out of area. Members were informed that the Fire Service had offered to help with welfare return interviews.
· In response to a question about how the work of the Missing Children Officers would be monitored, Members were informed that this would be qualitative and quantitative. Not all children and young people would want to engage in the process but better consistency of practice from officers would mean more children were likely to engage. This engagement was key to preventing repeated episodes.
· In response to a question about the number of LAC children experiencing multiple placements, Members were told about the importance of preventing placements breaking down. Further training and support was being provided for foster carers with the aim of reducing placement breakdown.
· It was confirmed that the Council did place LAC children in boarding schools and private schools, although no children were currently placed in such schools.
· Members were reminded that, although Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) remained a serious risk, the remit of the CSE Strategy Steering Group (a sub group of the WSCB) was being extended to include other forms of exploitation such as gangs, drug dealing (County Lines), forced marriage and trafficking.
The Independent Chair of the Worcestershire Safeguarding Children Board (WSCB) and the WSCB Business Manager had been invited to present the Board's Annual Report 2017/18.
By way of introduction, the Independent Chair made the following main points:
· He reminded the Panel that last year's annual report had been less than positive but had reiterated the commitment to partnership working.
· Although this year's report was more positive, there remained a gap and work was ongoing to improve further. The drafting of the neglect strategy (which would come to the WSCB in December 2018) was a positive development as was work with partners looking at domestic abuse and sexual violence from a children's safeguarding perspective.
· Child Sexual Exploitation remained a priority but the WSCB was also looking beyond CSE to the wider context of adolescent safeguarding, including drugs, County Lines and other violence. Superintendent Damian Pettit was leading this work.
· Members were informed that, collectively, Early Help remained an issue although lots of improvement work was being undertaken. The dissemination of information to professionals was key.
· It was important to ensure that the voices of young people were heard so that professionals were aware of the lived experience.
· The WSCB would continue to act as a critical friend in relation to the Service Improvement Plan.
· He confirmed that the WSCB budget had been underspent at the end of the last financial year, the result of one post remaining unfilled and a greater return than expected on a training project. The Board was talking to partners about how to use this money and was keen to ensure that public money was not wasted.
· From September 2019, the WSCB would no longer exist. Partners (including the local authority, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and the police) were now working to design new arrangements. It was anticipated that the new arrangements would be evolutionary rather than revolutionary and the direction of travel would be to take the best of the current arrangements while working more closely with the Safeguarding Adults Board.
Members were given an opportunity to ask questions and the following main points were raised:
· In response to a question about whether information sharing was still a problem, Members were informed that although things had improved there was still room for further improvement. The introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) had caused some people to step back. Although it was acknowledged that partners needed to be legally compliant, the Board wanted to foster an ethos of 'dare to share' if it was in the interests of the child.
· It was confirmed that, although the situation had improved since the Board's last report and safeguarding was in a better place than last year, there was still a way to go.
· With reference to CSE, the agenda report referred to the absence of an up to date multi-agency CSE Problem Profile. It was confirmed that this work was now much further forward with an interim profile having now been produced.
· The Panel was informed that work ... view the full minutes text for item 338.
The Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Children and Families and the Assistant Director for Early Help and Commissioning had been invited to update the Panel on the use of Children's Centre buildings and the related delivery of early childhood and early help services.
By way of introduction, the following main points were made:
· The appendix to the agenda report gave details of services currently delivered in each centre. This was a live working document.
· The report outlined recent changes to Children's Centres in the context of Government policy and national research.
· The Council's Early Years Strategy was currently being reviewed and this work was being led by the Assistant Director Education and Skills.
· Nationally and locally, resourcing levels for Children's Centres had reduced
· Footfall in Children's Centres had also reduced both nationally and in Worcestershire. However, some centres had seen an increase in footfall. The recording of footfall was difficult and had changed as the operation had transferred to other providers. Footfall was recorded while the service was under the Ofsted regime but there was not the resource available to do so in the same way now.
· Between 2016 and 2017 there had been a 45% reduction in the number of children attending Children's Centres in the County. However, since 2012 there had been a dramatic increase in the number of children attending early education and childcare. Children's Centres were being used by health and maternity services and support for families as part of the early help offer.
Members were given the opportunity to ask questions and the following main points were raised:
· In response to a question about how the impact of the centres was measured, Members were informed that for those centres run by commissioned providers this was outcome based. In Worcestershire, the level of development at the end of the foundation stage was above average. However, for more disadvantaged children, it was slightly below average. Children's Centres contributed to the level of development and there was a need to ensure that the provision at Children's Centres added value.
· A question was asked about the long-term strategy for Children's Centres. The Panel was told that earlier this year Ministers had linked funding of Children's Centres to the early years mobility strategy. There had been massive investment in the Centres between 2001 and 2010. Following this, Government policy changed with an increase in early education and childcare but a reduction in funding. The buildings were used for health and community projects as well as for education. It was heartening to look at the Early Years Strategy which aimed to use the buildings and facilities to achieve the best for children in the County.
· A short video had been produced to illustrate the work undertaken at Children's Centres in the County. This would be circulated Panel Members following the meeting. It was suggested that the video could be shown at a future meeting of full Council. Democratic Services Officers were asked to look into this.