Agenda and minutes

Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Monday, 5 November 2018 10.00 am

Venue: Sparkenhoe Committee Room, County Hall, Glenfield. View directions

Contact: Gemma Duckworth (0116 3052583)  Email: gemma.duckworth@leics.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

Webcast.

A webcast of the meeting can be viewed at [insert link].

37.

Minutes. pdf icon PDF 242 KB

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 10 September 2018 were taken as read, confirmed and signed.

38.

Question Time.

Minutes:

The Chief Executive reported that no questions had been received under Standing Order 35.

39.

Questions asked by members under Standing Order 7(3) and 7(5).

Minutes:

The Chief Executive reported that no questions had been received under Standing Order 7(3) and 7(5).

40.

Urgent Items.

Minutes:

There were no urgent items for consideration.

41.

Declarations of interest.

Minutes:

The Chairman invited members who wished to do so to declare any interest in respect of items on the agenda for the meeting.

 

Mrs. B. Seaton CC, Mrs. H. Fryer CC, Mr. S. D. Sheahan CC, Mr. J. Kaufman CC, Mr. G. Welsh CC, Mrs. R. Page CC, Mrs. M. Wright CC and Mr. T. J. Pendleton CC declared a Personal Interest in the report on the development of a unitary structure of local government for Leicestershire (minute number 51 refers) as they were members of a District or Borough Council,

42.

Declarations of the Party Whip in accordance with Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rule 16.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of the party whip.

43.

Presentation of Petitions under Standing Order 36.

Minutes:

The Chief Executive reported that no petitions had been received under Standing Order 36.

44.

Progress Report: Ofsted Recommendations as Part of the Ofsted Continuous Improvement Action Plan 2017-2020 - The Road to Excellence. pdf icon PDF 704 KB

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report of the Director of Children and Family Services informing of the progress made against the Ofsted Continuous Improvement Action Plan in responding to the Single Inspection of Children’s Social Care in November 2016.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 8’ is filed with these minutes.

 

The Director informed the Committee of the outcome from the recent Ofsted Focused Visit, which had taken place on 10-11 October.  Steady and realistic improvements in relation to the First Response Service had been identified since the 2016 Ofsted inspection along with a more stable workforce.  The recent visit had acknowledged a series of positive outcomes including that senior leaders knew the service well and had gained an understanding of social work practice from a range of activities, and that staff felt well supported and safe in their practice.  It was noted that senior leaders knew what the strengths of the service were, and were aware that there was much more to do to achieve the goals.  Five areas for improvement were identified from the inspection, and these were contained within the letter from Ofsted:

 

·         That partners needed to improve their consideration of thresholds, the quality of referrals and their understanding of consent;

·         The timeliness of social worker visiting and talking to children who had initially been assessed as not being at immediate risk of harm;

·         The speed and quality of management decisions when making Section 47 Enquiry considerations needed to be more consistent;

·         The clarity of recording outcomes;

·         The quality of assessments, including these being completed within the child’s timescale.

 

It was reported that good progress was being made against the 17 Ofsted recommendations within the Continuous Improvement Action Plan (OCIAP), with 11 now rated as green. 

 

Arising from the discussion, the following comments were raised:-

 

i)             In response to a query around the percentage of social worker vacancies in the department, it was agreed that this would be circulated to the Committee.  This was a relatively small number, but details would be provided of where the vacancies existed within the department.  Consideration had been given to the current level of pay for social workers in Leicestershire, and over the last few months, a market premia had been agreed for Team Manager and Senior Practitioner posts which had resulted in an improved rate of experienced staff applying for these roles.  As of 1 October, a similar market premia for Level 3 social worker posts had been agreed.

 

ii)            There was an improving picture in not only the performance of staff and how they were utilised and supported, but also in the quality.  It was difficult to rate the progress around recruitment and retention as no specific target had been set, but the department was well on track to recruit to those posts that needed to be recruited to.  However, it was acknowledged that this area remained a key area of challenge, particularly as experienced staff were often replaced by newly qualified social workers, who required more support and training.

 

iii)           There was also an improving picture around workloads.  Agency staff continued to be used where permanent staff were not in place and this helped to ensure that all social workers had an appropriate case load.  Some concern was raised around the fact that workload and recruitment and retention were linked, and it was therefore essential that the quality of the service was not undermined by an unstable workforce. 

 

iv)           Action 3 in the OCIAP related to social worker caseloads and was currently rated as amber.  The Director of Children and Family Services confirmed that this rating would  ...  view the full minutes text for item 44.

45.

Recruitment and Retention Strategy. pdf icon PDF 370 KB

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report of the Director of Children and Family Services providing an update on the department’s position in relation to the recruitment and retention of social workers, the national and local issues and some of the measures already taken to tackle the challenges.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 9’ is filed with these minutes.

 

Arising from the discussion, the following comments were raised:

 

i)             There had been some successful recruitment recently, although this was ongoing and further recruitment was due to take place in the coming weeks.  Despite an aspiration of having no vacancies within the department, this was unrealistic.  However, it was anticipated that over the next twelve months, there would be evidence of the progress made in recruitment and retention.  It was felt that success would be apparent when children were consistently well supported, caseloads were low, staff were not leaving the service and the department was able to reduce the number of agency staff.  Recruitment and retention was the most critical area for the department and success therefore of paramount importance.

 

ii)            There had been an increase in the use of agency staff over the last 18 months, but this was partly as a result of additional funding received and the need to reduce the caseloads of social workers to a manageable level.

 

iii)           In relation to a query around dealing with the burnout of staff, a key area was the use of supervision, whereby staff would have a one to one with their manager at least monthly to discuss case work and how this could be affecting them.  More reflective supervision was now encouraged, and as part of the service redesign of the Locality Teams, pod working was undertaken whereby partners collectively considered a case to see whether any additional support was required.  Co-working was being promoted where appropriate.

 

iv)           The Lead Member for Children and Families commended the work that staff undertook.  Leicestershire faced a challenge in that it was unable to pay the same salaries as some other local authorities, but could pride itself on the level of job satisfaction it offered to staff.

 

RESOLVED:

 

(a)  That the report be noted;

 

(b)  That an update on recruitment and retention be presented to the Committee in six months.

46.

Forgotten Children: Alternative Provision and the Scandal of Ever Increasing Exclusions - House of Commons Education Committee Report July 2018: Summary of Report and Leicestershire Children and Families Service Department Update. pdf icon PDF 466 KB

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report of the Director of Children and Family Services providing a summary of the House of Commons Education Committee report on the Forgotten Children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing inclusions, along with key recommendations.  The report also detailed the position of the Leicestershire Children and Families Service in relation to the findings and recommendations and the department’s developments from September 2018.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 10’ is filed with these minutes.

 

Arising from the discussion, the following comments were raised:

 

i)             It was noted that the County Council now had a formal link with secondary schools around alternative provision.  As a result of the review of the Education and Quality Team, the Education Effectiveness Team would now be the first point of contact for all schools, and held the data sets for schools around pupils who were electively home educated, referrals to secondary partnerships and young people who had been taken off roll or had moved to another school.  Discussions were now taking place with schools when a child had become electively home educated to ensure that this was the most appropriate outcome for the child.

 

ii)            Until 31 October 2018, the department had commissioned services to complete visits and monitor the educational attainment of children who were electively home educated.  However, as an interim measure, this facility had been brought in-house whilst a review was undertaken of all the services relating to inclusion.  There was a statutory duty to undertake a visit once a child became home educated and, although officers had no formal authority to enter the house, they sought to be actively engaged with families where children were home educated.

 

iii)           Concern was raised by a member that some children were missing education due to them being unable to travel to the school they had been allocated.  As a result, their parents were withdrawing them from school.  In response to a query around how this situation could be improved, it was recognised that there were parts of Leicestershire where children were expected to travel further to school as a result of over-subscription at their local school.  However, these children were on the roll of a school and would therefore not be categorised as a child missing education.

 

iv)           Leicestershire County Council was fully aware of the children who were on the roll of a school but were not attending, those who were contesting the allocation of places, and those who had been taken off the roll of a school by parents as a result of the school being too far away.  The local authority had a duty to ensure that there were sufficient school places for children within its area, and this was the case in Leicestershire.

 

v)            In relation to a query around why children in poverty were more likely to be excluded, it was felt that this could be as a result of a number of issues.  Assurance was given that the report did not imply that children would be excluded as a result of poverty, but it was known that children living in poverty were often more vulnerable to a variety of outcomes, one of which was exclusion.  Leicestershire had relatively low exclusion rates, but the local data had not yet been broken down to see whether there was a prevalence of children living in poverty being excluded.

 

vi)           The length of time a child spent in alternative provision was dependent on the individual’s case.  Education in alternative provision was mostly brokered through the secondary partnerships, although consideration was being given to using  ...  view the full minutes text for item 46.

47.

Annual Report of the Independent Reviewing Officer. pdf icon PDF 295 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report of the Director of Children and Family Services presenting the 2017/18 Annual Report of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) with regard to children in care and those subject to child protection planning.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 11’ is filed with these minutes.

 

Arising from the discussion, the following comments were raised:

 

i)             It was confirmed that no cases had been referred to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in relation to the conduct of the local authority around its provision for a child in care.  There had been a small number of cases where the IRO had challenged care planning arrangements and a review had been undertaken.

 

ii)            Reference was made in the report to the fact that sexual abuse only represented 2% of the Child Protection Plan categories of risk, and was therefore significantly under represented.  This was being investigated further to see whether the category was being masked by the use of multiple categories, for example, some children were the subject of a Child Protection Plan due to sexual and physical abuse, but had only been categorised under one area.  Where this was the case, it was argued that sexual abuse should be the primary category.  A detailed piece of work was also due to be undertaken around whether there was any evidence to suggest that those children displaying harmful sexual behaviour had been abused themselves.  An update would be provided to future meetings of the Child Protection Panel and this Committee.

 

iii)           The Annual Report contained a list of actions identified for service improvements during 2018/19, and an update would be provided on the progress with these.

 

iv)           The independence of the IRO was questioned, given that they worked for the County Council and were inspecting colleagues within another area of the service.  The majority of local authorities had found that the most successful way of providing the oversight that was required was to base the IRO service within the Safeguarding Unit.  Independence was assured as the IROs were line managed by an officer who did not have the responsibility for day to day practice and planning so there was no area of conflict.  The challenge work undertaken by IROs was already well embedded within the department, and other organisations such as Ofsted provided the necessary external quality assurance and oversight of the department.

 

v)            Confirmation was given that the capacity of the IRO service had been increased as a result of Ofsted growth money.

 

RESOLVED:

 

(a)  That the report be noted;

 

(b)  That an update be provided on progress with the actions identified for service improvements during 2018/19.

48.

Leicestershire Fostering Agency Statutory Report. pdf icon PDF 2 MB

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report of the Director of Children and Family Services detailing the activity of the Leicestershire Fostering Service during the period 1 April 2017 – 31 March 2018.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 12’ is filed with these minutes.

 

Arising from the discussion, the following comments were raised:

 

i)             In response to a query around how the savings target was achievable, it was stated that the local authority had put some growth money into this part of the service.  There had been investment in fostering recruitment and campaigns for specific groups, for example increasing the number of parent and baby placements offered to improve outcomes and to reduce the department having to use residential mother and baby units, which could incur a significant cost.  There had also been investment to complete assessments in a more timely way, and part of the growth money had been used to commission an organisation to support the completion of additional assessments when required.  It was acknowledged that this was a challenging target, and progress was monitored on a monthly basis.

 

ii)            The report highlighted that the service had an ambitious growth target of 25 mainstream carers and 8 specialist carers for 2018/19.  To date, 16 mainstream carers had been approved along with one specialist carer, with two more being considered by the Fostering Panel in December.  Assurance was given that the service was on target, and more carers were due to be considered by the Panel.

 

iii)           The Committee agreed that the report highlighted good performance and congratulated the work of officers.  The Lead Member for Children and Families was particularly pleased with the number of potential carers going through the process this year, in light of the challenging targets.  He suggested that a report should be presented to a future meeting of the Committee on the progress of the MISTLE project.

 

RESOLVED:

 

(a)  That the report be noted;

 

(b)  That a report be presented to a future meeting of the Committee on the MISTLE project.

49.

Leicestershire Adoption Agency Statutory Report. pdf icon PDF 625 KB

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report of the Director of Children and Family Services detailing the activity of the Leicestershire and Rutland Adoption Agency for the period 1 April 2017 – 31 March 2018.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 13’ is filed with these minutes.

 

Arising from the discussion, the following comments were raised:

 

i)             Recent reports had suggested that there had been a significant reduction in the number of prospective adopters as a result of an increase in successful fertility treatments.  It was confirmed that this had not had an impact on the figures in Leicestershire.

 

ii)            Concern was raised by a member that the Adoption Panel had not had access to a legal advisor for some time.  However, assurance was given that there was no legal requirement to have a legal advisor for the Panel.  Discussions had taken place with colleagues in the Council’s Legal Department, and regular advice was offered on individual plans for children.

 

iii)           The Agency Decision Maker formed part of the quality assurance process of the Adoption Panel, and had identified that only a few things should come from the Panel that would need to be quality assured.  Further work was required around this and the Assistant Director was due to attend the next meeting of the Adoption Panel to observe and provide feedback to the Chair.

 

iv)           Discussions had previously taken place around the creation of a regional Adoption Agency.  The East Midlands was split into two halves, with Leicestershire being associated with Leicester City, Rutland and Lincolnshire.  The Lead Member stated that Leicestershire had been very effective in its work around adoption and felt that, currently, nothing should change.

 

v)            A Permanence Team pilot was currently taking place in Loughborough, and the aim of this was for a team to work together better to utilise all their skills and provide additional support.  The outcome from the pilot would be reported early in 2019.

 

RESOLVED:

 

That the report be noted.

50.

Leicestershire Virtual School. pdf icon PDF 402 KB

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report of the Director of Children and Family Services providing a summary of the role and work undertaken by the Virtual School.  The report also provided a contextual summary of the Virtual School 2017 cohort and their examination results.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 14’ is filed with these minutes.

 

The Committee commended the report and the positive outcomes that the Virtual School had achieved.  Arising from the discussion, the following comments were raised:

 

i)             Each child associated with the Virtual School was monitored on a variety of outcomes, including attendance, extended absences and exclusions.  The service also offered advocacy support.  For post 16 pupils, the Virtual School monitored attendance at college and offered advice around career opportunities.  A scheme had been established to support young people with ring fenced apprenticeship opportunities within the local authority, and one person had commenced on 5 November 2018.

 

ii)            Confirmation was provided that the additional funding received from the Department for Education was annual and would continue to be received next year.

 

The Lead Member for Children and Families agreed that the work of the Virtual School was to be congratulated, and in order to raise awareness of the service further, an All Member Briefing would be arranged.

 

RESOLVED:

 

(a)  That the report be noted;

 

(b)  That an All Member Briefing on the subject of the Virtual School be arranged.

 

 

At the conclusion of this item, the meeting was adjourned.

 

-The meeting reconvened at 2.00pm-

51.

The Development of a Unitary Structure for Local Government in Leicestershire. pdf icon PDF 860 KB

A copy of the report submitted to the Cabinet at its meeting on 16 October 2018 and the relevant Appendix (Appendix A) are attached.  The Committee is invited to comment on the proposals.  The views of the Committee will be reported to the Scrutiny Commission at its meeting on 14 November 2018.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report of the Chief Executive which had been submitted to the Cabinet on 16 October in response to the Cabinet resolution of 6 July 2018 to enable the Cabinet to consider outline proposals for the development of a unitary structure for local government in Leicestershire.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 15’ is filed with these minutes.

 

The Director of Corporate Resources was also present to introduce the report and made reference to the Chancellor’s budget announcement the previous week, which had been more positive than expected.  He suggested that the following caveats should be borne in mind:-

  • Whether all Government departments would be treated the same, or whether services such as defence and the police would receive a greater share of funding;
  • The Government’s funding did not allow for changes in population or demand for services; there was a likelihood that these would increase, particularly for social care, and therefore increase funding requirements;
  • The costs could increase at a faster rate than inflation.

 

The Director reminded members that, for Leicestershire County Council to achieve a balanced budget it would still need to increase council tax and meet its savings targets.

 

Arising from discussion the following points were raised:-

 

Overview

 

    (i)        The Cabinet on 16 October had agreed to invite and encourage all stakeholders, including district councils, to take part in an engagement process.  The Cabinet was keen for this to happen over the next few months.

 

  (ii)        Following the publication of a statement by the Secretary of State the previous week that the clause in the Cities and Devolution Act 2016, allowing applications for unitary status to progress without full consent of the affected areas, was due to expire in March 2019, it was confirmed that the legal position set out in the Cabinet report indicated that Leicestershire intended to rely on a different Act of Parliament, should it decide to make an application.  The County Council would continue to work on meeting the Government criteria outlined in the report unless those were changed.

 

Financial Situation

 

 (iii)        Equalisation of council tax was required so that it was the same across the unitary area.  Most areas that had moved from a two tier model to a unitary structure tended to set council tax at the lowest district council charge.  However, this would be a decision for the administration of the new unitary authority.  Members made reference to the impact of new parish councils on council tax; this would have to be borne in mind.

 

 (iv)        It was confirmed that work on the proposals for a unitary structure of local government for Leicestershire had been undertaken within existing resources.  Some staff had been able to re-prioritise their workload to undertake the extra work and some staff had worked additional unpaid hours.

 

Model Unitary Structure

 

  (v)        It was confirmed that the Local Area Committees would be decision making bodies.  They would differ from district councils in that there would be no infrastructure beneath them; services would be managed centrally.

 

 (vi)        It was acknowledged that, based on the comparative number of electors in existing unitary authorities, Leicestershire would be larger than most.  However, the proposed number of unitary councillors was proportionately in-line with that of other unitary councils.

 

(vii)        The development of a unitary structure for local government in Leicestershire would provide an opportunity to revisit the role of the councillor and enhance the community leadership role.  This proposal would be developed further through the engagement and consultation process.

 

Options Appraisal

 

(viii)        A member suggested that the options appraisal should include an analysis of the status quo.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 51.

52.

Date of next meeting.

The next meeting of the Committee is scheduled to take place on 22 January 2019 at 1.30pm.

 

Minutes:

RESOLVED:

 

It was noted that the next meeting of the Committee would be held on 22 January 2019 at 1.30pm.