To consider the Children’s Services Improvement Plan.
The Head of Children’s Services gave a presentation outlining the work that had been undertaken since the inspection in October 2018 and the Children’s Services Improvement Plan December 2018 – March 2021.
· A clear vision had been circulated to staff and through the restructure it will be clear to staff that appropriate intervention should take place at the earliest time.
· A staff restructure is taking place
· The ‘Signs of Safety’ model of practice is being introduced
· The service will embed a practice of working with rather than doing to families.
· There will be a focus on early intervention and prevention and ensuring the right support is available at the right time.
· Recent performance data demonstrates sustained improvement over the last three months.
· The complaints process has been strengthened and the service is working with local providers in Powys to make better use of local placements although some of these are niche providers.
· There are 82 Children Looked After who are placed out of county. Work has been undertaken to bring these children back to Powys and the first cohort has returned some to a Powys foster placement and some back home with appropriate support. A second cohort has been identified.
· Further Corporate Parenting training has been provided.
· Placement Officers have been moved from Social Work teams to the Commissioning Unit which has improved placement commissioning and monitoring.
· The restructure includes an apprenticeship post for a careleaver.
· ‘What good looks like’ training has been undertaken
· Multi-agency strategy meetings are now taking place much more promptly unless it is a complex case
· Analysis has been undertaken as to why so many cases are closed after assessment with the intention of ensuring a more appropriate level of cases sent for assessment
· All children on Placement Orders and Care Orders placed at home have been reviewed to identify if it would be appropriate to seek to revoke an order
· The Children Leaving Care Fora has been reinstated with regular meetings arranged which the Head of Service will attend
· Access to Community Care Inform has been provided to all Social Workers to enable them to ensure their practice is up to date
A national report on fostering has recently been published which showed that almost half of foster carers would not recommend fostering.
Much work needs to be undertaken to attract and support foster carers. Work is being undertaken to provide a national level of support for foster carers. The service recognise this is an area that needs investment and there is much work to do.
One third of Children Looked After out of county is alarming. Children should not be placed far from home.
This number is too high and work is taking place to address this. It can be difficult once children are placed away and settle they may express a desire to remain in the placement. Children that are placed away are usually older and can clearly articulate their wishes.
Do Independent Reviewing Officers effectively undertake quality assurance? Is it necessary to have a manager for these few staff? Do they intervene in decision-making and is support available to them?
Independent Reviewing Officers are the only staff who are managed by Senior Managers rather than Team Managers. Employing a Team Manager will ensure that proper support and supervision is available and that they are able to escalate concerns where necessary. There are 6 Independent Reviewing Officers in the new structure.
Cllr Hulme left 12.00
The Director of Social Services left 12.00
A view was expressed that there were too many managers and too few front line staff.
The Head of Service advised that she had inherited a flawed structure and had undertaken a restructure with the intention that all posts had a manageable workload. There should be no more than 5 gaps between frontline staff and the Chief Executive. This is being undertaken alongside the work that the Interim Chief Executive has progressed to shrink the workforce. There are some additional roles identified that are required which include a Child Sexual Exploitation Officer, Safeguarding Manager and Independent Reviewing Office Manager.
There are two main costs in Children’s Services which are children in expensive placements and agency staff. It is difficult to recruit permanent staff until a job can be offered that can be done (fairly shared workload). The restructure aims to do this after which agency costs can be reduced.
What is the ideal amount of agency staff?
Agency staff are always needed for flexibility (spikes in demand, a particular issue or illness) and it is difficult to know what the ‘right’ level is at the moment. However, at present agency staff are being used to keep the service afloat which is not correct. Work is being undertaken linking with colleagues in HR, property, communications, WCCIS etc to reform teams and a recruitment campaign is being arranged. It will be essential to monitor progress on this as £1million of savings from the staffing budget are identified to be made by reducing dependency on agency staff.
What actions are being taken to ‘grow your own’ staff?
It is understood that previously it was difficult to get onto a course and these were only offered though the Open University. It will be necessary in the long term to develop links with providers at a location in Powys. In the meantime, from September 2019, the service will be offering placements for students as this can be a source of new staff.
If a foster carer moves from local authority foster caring to an independent foster caring provider what will happen to any children placed with that carer?
Children placed would not be moved if a foster carer changed providers. Foster carer recruitment and retention is an area of focus for the service and would be an appropriate area for scrutiny.
There are a number of Measures of Success contained within the report which do not appear to demonstrate that the actions undertaken will result in the outcome sought. Example include where training is identified as required the simple fact of undertaking training does not measure a change in behaviours resulting in improved outcomes or a new scrutiny structure is does not measure improved links between scrutiny and cabinet.
· That scrutiny observations on the Improvement Plan are provided to the Portfolio Holder, Director of Social Services and Head of Children’s Services
· That scrutiny monitors the Improvement Plan to include but not exclusively the following areas:
o Placement provision including out of county placements
o Foster carer recruitment and retention
o Partnership working
· That the service populates the Cabinet forward work programme to enable scrutiny to identify potential items which may benefit from pre-Cabinet scrutiny