Report of the Cabinet Member for Children & Young People
The Select Committee received details of the Improvement Plan post the outcome of Ofsted’s focused visit on 26-27 June 2018 and the Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services on 4-8 February 2019, which rated services as “good”.
The June Focused Visit had evaluated the LAs arrangements for the protection on vulnerable adolescents. Inspectors found that Staffordshire had clear strategic plans in place to strengthen their approach and praised the work taking place in Staffordshire, including that of partner agencies. They also identified the following areas for improvement:
a) Changes to the auditing process to include greater focus on the quality of practice taking place;
b) High workloads in specific parts of the service impacting on case planning for children and young people;
c) Plans for children and young people not being outcome focused and SMART enough linked to timescales;
d) Management oversight and supervision to progress plans for all children and young people.
An improvement plan to address the areas highlighted was implemented in August 2018, focusing on; recruitment and retention; quality of practice; management oversight; and caseload.
At the February 2019 Ofsted inspection, where services were rated as good, Ofsted also noted that leaders and managers had made impressive progress since the focussed visit in 2018. They also found:
a) The impact of leaders on social work practice within children and families was good;
b) The experience and progress of children who need help and protection required improvement;
c) The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers was good; and
d) Overall effectiveness was good.
The areas highlighted for improvement had been built into the improvement plan. This plan was regularly reviewed by both the Children’s Social Care Management Team and the Children’s Improvement Board.
Members received a link to the Improvement Plan and copies of the Ofsted Inspection and Focused Visit report/letter.
Members noted comments around the management of Electively Home Educated (EHE) children. This Select Committee had undertaken two separate pieces of work around EHE and remained concerned around the growth in numbers and the lack of resource to deal with this growth effectively. They were also aware the Edward Timpson review on exclusions, which highlighted concerns around EHE.
Members were pleased that Ofsted had rated Staffordshire Children’s Services as “good” and that a proactive approach was evidenced in the improvement plan to work towards becoming outstanding.
The Select Committee noted concerns around caseloads and asked whether the caseload number for social workers was appropriate. Appropriate casework levels were dependent on the type of work undertaken. For example, those working within safeguarding should have no more than 25 cases at any one time, with those working with looked after children having case loads no higher than 20. Other areas of Children’s Services may have higher caseloads, with the number being dependent on the complexity of cases. Recruitment and retention of experienced social workers, particularly within safeguarding, remained difficult. A recruitment drive had been undertaken and agency social workers were used to help ensure appropriate case load levels where necessary.
Difficulty with the Court systems was discussed. Members heard that more court time had been given to address the backlog, however the issue now was around the reluctance to remove children from their home. Increasingly where an Interim Care Order was made the child remained at home as the Court didn’t want to pre-judge the outcome of proceedings by removing the child into the care system. However, this put the LA in a difficult position in that they had joint parental responsibility for the child but little opportunity to influence the child’s safeguarding and care throughout this period. Court proceedings could take up to 26 weeks and, even where a care order is awarded, the Court often judged that the child should remain at home as, in their view, the LA had managed the care of the child successfully for 26 weeks without the child being removed into the care system. Frank conversations had taken place explaining the difficulties with this, however currently the only recourse for the LA was to appeal the decision, which was a costly and lengthy process.
Members queried whether it was difficult for children in the looked after care system to be returned home. Until recently the rise in the number of children in the looked after system was not so much resulting from a rise in the number of children coming into care but in the lack of children leaving. Each child in care had an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) who reviewed their care plan, contact, return home etc. and it was acknowledged that at times young people could perhaps be returned home a little sooner than was currently the case. In particular 16 and 17 year olds who would leave the care system at 18 anyway and often returned home at that time.
Members noted that all social workers had laptops to work from but that the IT system used was complex which sometimes resulted in difficulty in finding specific information. Work was underway to simplify some of the “bolt-on” additions that had been developed over time.
RESOLVED – That the progress of the Children and Families Improvement Plan be welcomed.