Report of the Cabinet Member for Children & Young People
In 2017 Catch 22 were commissioned to deliver Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Missing Services across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. The integrated commissioning arrangements were led by Stoke-on-Trent, with funding from Staffordshire County Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Stoke-on-Trent Public Health, Stoke-on-Trent Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and the Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (OPFCC).
Catch 22 conducted all independent return interviews for missing and absent children and young people aged up to 18 years residing in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, including those placed by other Local Authorities (LAs). Members received details of the interview process and use of information gathered. A performance and quality assurance framework was in place, with monthly and annual reporting to ensure appropriate intervention meetings were undertaken based on vulnerability and to build intelligence and insight to enable appropriate safeguarding initiatives were in place.
The Select Committee received an analysis of service performance over six months. Catch 22 had completed between 70-80% of missing person interviews in comparison to a national average of 38%. The Team had a good record of building rapport and relationships with those at risk of episodes to help reduce risk. Use of a co-designed interview form created a consistent approach to return interviews. There were strong links between the CSE and Missing Co-ordinator, Catch 22 and Children’s Services in sharing information. The Annual Contract Report was due to be produced in June 2019 and would reflect demand and performance during 2018/19.
Members received details of developments in place in response to the Ofsted Focused Inspection on the LAs services for the protection of vulnerable adolescents. They also received details of priorities for the next 12 months.
The Select Committee were aware that Stoke-on-Trent’s Children’s Services had been judged as inadequate by Ofsted and queried whether this would have an impact on the joint Catch 22 commissioning. Whilst Catch 22 had been commissioned to undertake visits for all missing episodes across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, the details of that work were fed back to the host authority. Therefore Staffordshire would receive details of the interviews undertaken with their children and young people and would take appropriate action, and Stoke would do the same for their children and young people. Members were informed that Stoke on Trent City Council were developing an improvement plan and had a new Director and Assistant Director for Children’s Services. The DfE appointed Commissioner would need to be satisfied that their improvement plan was good enough to make the necessary improvements, with Children’s Services being outsourced if this was not the case.
The Catch 22 contract ran until 2020, at which time all partners would need to consider if they wished to continue commissioning this service. Both Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent had received some criticism around the overall management of missing children in that, whilst the information gathered through interviews was used to inform work on an individual basis, it had not routinely been used for collective analysis. Work was now underway to include a more strategic response from the collating intelligence and collective learning, and this had helped inform a first draft of the Child Exploitation Strategy, with the final Strategy being expected by September.
Member’s queried the information sharing between the Police and Children’s Services. Catch 22 reported details of information gathered through the interview process to both partner organisations. Unfortunately, as the IT systems for the differing organisations were not compatible, details had to be put into the differing systems manually.
Members heard that roughly 1 third of all children and young people missing episodes were those going missing from their own homes, 1 third were from the care system and 1 third were those placed in Staffordshire by another local authority. The amount and type of information Catch 22 would receive from the Police when a referral was made normally reflected which third the child was from, with more detail normally being available pre-interview for those children and young people that Staffordshire had placed in their Care System. Difficulties remained around interviewing individuals placed outside their county, with some authorities not having reciprocal interview arrangements. The responsibility for any missing episode interview remained with the LA who placed the child rather than with the LA where the child was currently resident.
The Select Committee was aware that Ofsted had recognised the work of Staffordshire’s Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Panels as good but had felt they needed to have broader consideration of exploitation than just CSE. To ameliorate for this a pilot had been developed in Burton for a Panel with a broader more contextualised approach to safeguarding.
Members received details of how the work of Catch 22 was quality assured. They raised some concerns at the Ofsted comment that there was a lack of tenacity when undertaking some missing interviews. Whilst there were always opportunities to improve Members were informed that Catch 22 had evidenced tenacity and had, in fact, delivered well beyond their contract which stipulated two interview attempts should be made. A Multi-agency Board oversaw this work, with a lot of pro-active preventative work undertaken. Members wished to see first hand the work that Catch 22 undertook and the internal audit systems they employed.
RESOLVED – That:
a) the work of the County Council and key partners in respect of children and young people who go missing from home or care be received: and
b) the Select Committee has the opportunity to consider first hand the work of Catch 22 and their internal audit systems.