Request to Children's Commissioner, Malcolm Newsam
This is a very straightforward motion - a request for information from the children's commissioner, Malcolm Newsam.
A huge amount of work has gone into restructuring the operational side of Children's Services. There is a Business Plan and now an Improvement Plan, an Early Help sub Group, a social care improvement board and a multi-agency improvement board.
This is all about how the council will react and respond to the families, children and young people who present as vulnerable and in need support. It's a great responsibility and it's right that the council acts to keep our residents safe.
But a whole areas of the latest Ofsted Report appear to have been overlooked. And for the Children's Services to improve and address some of the underlying causes which bring children to the attention of the statutory services, more has to be done. We need to be informed of the strategies and measures which will be put in place to address the issues raised.
So, based on the Ofsted recommendations we need to see a return to multi agency locality working. Children First Business Plan noted - 'there should be locally based, integrated multi-professional teams, co-located with partners where possible'. The children's commissioner states - 'that a partnership approach is underdeveloped and the county, districts and voluntary sector are not working together effectively'. The capacity of some specialist support services is not enough to meet needs. Some support services have been decommissioned or significantly reduced because of budget pressures.
Nationally 1,000 children's centres have closed since 2009 while 760 youth centres have shut since 2010. This is where locality working takes place. Vulnerable children are continuing to pay the price as councils face funding cuts and soaring demand for help.
The case for early help and prevention is overwhelming. Ofsted report states - 'What needs to improve is strategic development of early help services to ensure that children's needs are identified and responded to at the earliest opportunity'. There is a clear moral and economic case for investing in early intervention. Failure to provide early intervention in health and education costs an estimated £15b nationally per year.
Can we see a programme which addressed these aims? The council does have an Early Help and Prevention strategy, last updated in August 2016 but it is not referenced in the Improvement Plan or the Target Operational Model, the Ofsted Report or in any of the commissioner's recommendations.
The Inspection Report found ' that children in care were living in unregulated and unsafe places, and some care leavers were vulnerable and homeless'. This is not keeping our young people safe. The Business Plan states - 'the need to ensure supported accommodation and supported lodgings are available for care leavers: ensuring care leavers have help and advice made available to them to support their transition into adulthood until aged 25. All care leavers have pathway plans, and, in most cases young people were involved in writing them. However, many plans lack specific actions, timescales and clearly defined outcomes for young people. Pathway plans are not always updated when circumstances change for young people.'
Again none of this is referenced in the commissioner's recommendations. It is a programme to address these aims that we want to see.
There have been workshops, training, reviews, assessments, surveys, briefings, identification of problems, and progress has been made. Case loads and unallocated cases are greatly reduced, recruitment and retention of social workers is being addressed, the MASH has been re-modelled, there is a beginning of a change in culture, the working environment has been improved, the Signs of Safety framework is supported.
But, highlighted in the Inspection Report - 'Actions formulated in child protection conferences are not sufficiently clear about the objectives and expectations of what is to be achieved to improve children’s circumstances. Child protection conference chairs escalate issues, but this is not effective as there is rarely a sufficient response by managers to address the issues raised. As a result, children’s situations do not always improve, resulting in poor experiences and increased risk.'
' There is a high level of data and performance information, which enables better measurement and tracking of practice and performance. However, this is not always used effectively to analyse and identify trends at a strategic level, and reports are not always being used by frontline managers. Management oversight and decision-making do not consistently provide clear actions and are not sufficiently well recorded on children’s files'.
These observations are again from the Inspection Report. The analysis of the situation is done; the aims are clear. What now needs to happen are strategies to keep our children safe; to translate the information collected into delivery models. Our Children's Services remain fragile as we move towards the formation of a Children's Trust. The Service needs to be more robust and resilient before it is handed over to an outside agency. We are requesting to see the programme that addresses these aims, as identified in the recent serious case reviews and Ofsted Report. If the commissioner's aims are different we should be informed.