The Scrutiny Support Officer presented a report to provide the Children and Learning Scrutiny Panel with further information in respect of its current topic - Safeguarding and Children in Care (Looked After Children).
The purpose of the meeting was for the scrutiny panel to consider evidence in respect of Terms of Reference g) and h) as follows:
- To assess the quality and standard of residential care provided/used by the Local Authority.
- To determine the range of support that the Local Authority provides to assist young people leaving care with the transition to independent living.
A written paper prepared in respect of the Panels enquiries, was attached at Appendix 1 to the submitted report.
The Assistant Director for Safeguarding and Childrens Care, and the Service Manager, Support and Development, were in attendance to respond to Members questions with regard to the quality and standard of residential care provided and used by the Local Authority.
In respect of the assistance provided to young people leaving care and the transition to independent living, a written paper was attached to Appendix 2 to the submitted Report. The Pathways Manager and Personal Adviser, Stronger Families, were also in attendance to respond to any queries.
The Scrutiny Support Officer explained that unfortunately a member of the Transitions Team was unable to attend the meeting due to work commitments; however copies of two case studies that had been provided were circulated. Members were asked to submit any questions regarding the documents to the Scrutiny Support Officer. Members expressed disappointment that the Officer could not attend and emphasised the importance of Officers' attendance at Scrutiny Panel meetings.
In relation to OFSTED ratings for residential placements, the Service Manager, Support and Development, confirmed that Middlesbrough had three residential establishments of which one had an outstanding rating, one had a good rating and one required improvement. Residential provision had previously been outsourced and since taking the service back in-house the ratings had improved for all three homes which had previously been rated as requiring improvement.
Extensive work had been undertaken in relation to the homes and was still in progress. The work included a full review of the staffing structure, staff training and extensive renovation of the buildings.
Where there was a requirement for a child to be placed outside of the Middlesbrough area, the Placements Officer would consider the options. The Placements Officer had a good knowledge of residential homes throughout the country and would look at OFSTED reports and other reports with the aim of always trying to place children in homes that were rated good or outstanding. It was noted however, that sometimes the OFSTED ratings dropped due to reasons other than safeguarding, for example if equipment was out of date. The Placements Officer also relied on intelligence gathered from previous usage of homes and from Social Workers reports as well as national reporting.
The cost of a placement varied according to the needs of a child or young person and could cost anything from between £2,500 per week for a young person to £6,000 per week for a complex young person who required a specialist placement because they had a disability, or secure placement because they were considered a risk to themselves or others. Where young people were placed a long way from Middlesbrough there were significant additional costs including expenses related to visits by social workers and arrangements to facilitate contact with families.
It was noted that wherever possible, efforts were made to seek contributions from Education and Health. In some cases, the level of need could be reduced over time but there were some young people with profound or complex disabilities who continued to require a high level of support.
£400,000 had been identified to create a Home for Children with Disabilities in Middlesbrough and work was ongoing to identify a suitable property that could be developed and adapted to provide this establishment.
When the Council had decided to take the three existing residential homes back under its control, the idea was that this would provide more flexibility. For example, if a child was placed externally, a provider would give only 28 days notice if they could not meet a childs needs and it was difficult to find a new placement within that timescale, whereas within the Councils own homes there was more flexibility.
In terms of cost effectiveness, the original plan had been to operate within the same budget as previously. Although the cost of the three homes had increased due to job evaluation of posts, overall, in-house provision was still excellent value compared with purchasing placements from elsewhere. It was highlighted that Redcar and Cleveland Council had purchased some placements from Middlesbrough at Gleneagles. Middlesbrough Council rarely bought provision from other Local Authorities.
Middlesbrough was currently working with Darlington, Hartlepool and Redcar Councils to develop a Tees Valley Residential Framework Contract which would commence from 1 April 2016. This would enable the Authorities to control price and improve quality with all providers that successfully applied for the framework. The five Tees Valley Authorities met on a monthly basis to share information about the placements they used. The Assistant Director commented that Authorities had better negotiating powers when they combined and aspired to do this at regional level also.
With regarding to the range of support for young people leaving care with the transition to independent living, it was highlighted that a recent OFSTED report had provided very positive feedback. One of the areas identified for improvement was for the Pathways Team to ascertain the views of young people and for Care Leavers to have the opportunity to voice their opinions and share their experiences of leaving care and the support provided. Care Leavers were currently asked to complete questionnaires post 18 and post 21 years of age. The Pathways Team acknowledged that more time needed to be spent ensuring that questionnaires were completed and the information collated and analysed in order to produce a more focused service delivery.
One of the practices that OFSTED complimented the Pathways Team on was the range of people based within the Team from other agencies. It was highlighted that discussions were currently ongoing with the Hospital Trust regarding the Looked After Childrens (LAC) Nurse. Young people were very appreciative that the LAC Nurse was based within the Pathways Team and was available to them. The Hospital Trust proposed to move the LAC Nurse back to the hospital for inclusion in the Safeguarding Team. The Assistant Director commented that he had highlighted this issue to the OFSTED Team. The CICC representative also endorsed the view that the LAC Nurse was an important asset to the Pathways Team.
The Pathways Team currently had 41 Care Leavers who were Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). This number included people who were young parents, in prison or had emotional or health problems and were therefore not ready to go into education, employment or training. It was clarified that some young parents were undertaking Access Courses and those in prison would be receiving some form of training, however they did fall into the NEET category. The Assistant Director assured the Panel that measures were being taken to reduce the numbers. Some young people had been mentored within the Councils Legal Services Team and coaching had been provided for job interview preparation. The Council had included a clause in the recruitment process to ensure that all LAC would receive an interview for any Council job they applied for. Environment Services were also actively seeking apprenticeships for LAC.
The CICC representative, speaking from personal experience, stated that he wished he had listened to the advice he was given by the Pathways Team with regard to leaving his foster placement at eighteen years of age. Several people at Pathways had tried to convince him not to move out of his placement but he had not been convinced and left and he now regretted his decision. It was suggested that perhaps other young people might listen to his point of view and take on board his advice more readily than that of the Pathways Team. The Assistant Director added that young people knew their own minds and it was not always possible to influence them. However, the Pathways Team would still be there to pick up the pieces if mistakes were made.
AGREED that the information provided was received and noted.