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 Panel had received written evidence in relation to Terms of Reference i) and j), which were as follows:
To examine the profile of the professional workforce of social workers and the effectiveness of care planning across the Local Authority.
To determine the responsibilities of corporate parents and how the role can be enhanced.
The Lead Executive Member for Childrens Services, Executive Director Wellbeing, Care and Learning and
Assistant Director, Safeguarding and Children's Care were in attendance to provide clarification on the information provided as required.
The Executive Director commented on the recent OFSTED inspection for which the Authority had received an overall grade of 'requires improvement' for its work with children in care. The support provided for children and young people leaving care had been graded as 'good' and the Executive Director commended staff for that achievement. Areas identified by OFSTED for further improvement were the quality and consistency of recording and specifically the quality of Care Plans. A report would be brought to a future meeting of the Children and Learning Scrutiny Panel in relation to the inspection and progress with the Authoritys Post-OFSTED Action Plan.
Details of the ratios between newly qualified and experienced social workers were contained at paragraph eight of Appendix One to the submitted report. The Assistant Director stated that anecdotally the Authority had a higher proportion of relatively inexperienced staff but other Local Authorities tended to use more agency staff. A regional survey was underway in relation to a number of staffing issues with the aim of enabling Local Authorities to work together rather than in competition with each other with regard to staffing.
The target average caseload for Social Workers was 21 and at the present time Middlesbroughs average was 24.4. The average figure reflected newly qualified Social Workers with protected caseloads of up to 15 and experienced Social Workers with caseloads of 30 plus. The Assistant Director explained that when all Social Workers posts were filled the caseload was 19 to 20 per Social Worker. For the first time in five years, the Authority was employing agency staff who could pick up the larger and more complex cases. The use of agency staff was a stop gap until the department was fully staffed and the Authority was in the process of actively recruiting to vacancies.
Work was ongoing regionally to try and address recruitment and retention issues and avoid competing with other Local Authorities. There were some variations across the region and agency staff were generally paid at a higher rate. Whilst Middlesbrough could not keep competing on a salary basis other measures such as the Nine-Day Fortnight and Progression Timescales had been introduced.
It was noted that Social Workers spent a significant part of their working week on non-contact activity and national surveys suggested that only 16-17% of their week was spent directly working with service users. The Assistant Director commented that this figure did not include time spent on planning, in Court or writing reports and was based purely on face-to-face contact rather than the whole range of duties. It was highlighted that OFSTED were very complimentary about the direct work Social Workers did with children and young people and the evidence produced about some of the innovative work that was taking place in Middlesbrough.
The Scrutiny Support Officer read out a paragraph from the recent report which highlighted the positive contributions of the Children and Learning Scrutiny Panel.
Across the service there were strong and positive working relationships with the police, colleagues in health, CAMHS, housing, voluntary sector and some schools. It was clarified that in this context the reference to voluntary sector support did not include relatives. The Assistant Director confirmed that a briefing would be produced for all Councillors in relation to policies and procedures for assessing families and rates of pay.
Appendix 2 to the submitted report related to the responsibilities of corporate parents and how this role could be enhanced. Councillors did not receive formal training regarding their roles and responsibilities as corporate parents although a Members Briefing had taken place on 13 July 2015. The Lead Member suggested that offering a stronger range of training opportunities for Members would be a positive way forward.
As part of the current review, arrangements had been made for Panel Members to visit secondary schools. Five out of seven schools had been visited to date and arrangements were in place for the sixth visit. Only one school had not responded to date and the Executive Director agreed to follow this up. A Panel Member commented that the visits to schools had been well received and some positive provision had been identified.
A Panel Member asked how the Service received feedback from children and young people. The Children in Care Council (CICC) representative explained that feedback was received via the CICC and Looked After Children (LAC) Reviews. The CICC would then work with Local Authority Officers to address areas of concern. In addition, the National Advocacy Service was commissioned by Middlesbrough to work with all young people and children in care and provided an independent perspective in terms of advocacy and also complaints.
A copy of Middlesbroughs Pledge was tabled for Members information. The Pledge was a promise by Council to children who were looked after and was developed and approved by young people.
AGREED as follows that:
1. The information provided was received and noted.
2. The draft Final Report on Safeguarding and Children in Care would be considered at the next Panel meeting.