The Executive Director of Childrens Services advised that, following the Pathways (Leaving Care) Team being the subject of a peer challenge in November 2018, feedback had now been received.
The Board was informed that the peer challenge was part of the North East regions 'sector-led improvement' initiative, which brought together teams of people, including an LGA Associate, to peer challenge one another. A request had been made for a peer challenge team to review the Pathways (Leaving Care) Team in Middlesbrough. It was felt that the process was especially demanding, but also very helpful. The Board had been provided with the completed overview report, together with an action plan that officers had prepared in response.
It was felt that the report was quite detailed, compiled from a very useful exercise from both a strategic management and frontline practice point of view. The staff, partners and foster carers had provided very good accounts to demonstrate the work undertaken.
Members were directed to page four of the report, second bullet point from the bottom, which posed the following question: "Is there a more involved role for Elected Members through visits to homes, foster carers and for those living far from home. This will provide Elected Members with a direct opportunity to discharge their Corporate Parenting responsibility".
During discussion, it was explained to the Board that, so as not to pre-empt any preferred action, this matter had not been placed in the action plan, but could be added if required.
A Member made reference to previous activity that had been undertaken in terms of Members visiting childrens homes and speaking to young people. It was felt that this needed to be revisited. Consideration was given to the involvement of Elected Members, from this Board, in future conversations with foster carers around the provision of help and support. It was felt that there was potential for Elected Members to become champions for specific homes in order to both encourage and facilitate relationship development. The Board agreed to work being undertaken to seek out appropriate mechanisms for future engagement work, for Elected Members to meet children, foster carers and visit residential and, potentially, individual homes. The issues around these varying approaches were acknowledged; it was important that engagement work was undertaken in an appropriate way.
A Member queried whether engagement work would be undertaken with adoptive parents, in addition to foster carers. In response, it was explained that the legislation was very different, and the level of engagement may also have been very different. Reference was made to Adoption Tees Valley and the post-adoption support work that was undertaken for the Local Authority. At the request of Members, the Director of Childrens Care would liaise with Adoption Tees Valley in terms of ascertaining the potential for Elected Members to support this work.
The Board discussed the importance of training in ensuring that any Elected Members partaking in visitation activities were appropriately prepared. Reference was made to training undertaken within Local Authorities that had specific programmes in place, which included Elected Members visiting childrens homes, with trained officers, and undertaking regulatory checks. There were some excellent practice models available around this. Members felt that it was important to seek out ways of working that balanced formal regulatory work, with establishing contact and engaging in more informal conversations.
The Board agreed to seek to progress the implications of this item and develop a programme of opportunities for corporate parents to meet with foster parents and children and, as part of the process, consider appropriate training and preparatory activities.
A Member made further reference to page four of the report, third bullet point from the bottom, and commented that as part of the Local Authoritys social regeneration agenda, it was important to ensure that opportunities were being made available for care leavers and young people. It was felt that if the Local Authority demonstrated this to be taking place, then other businesses and partners would follow suit. Reference was made to wider activities that were on-going, which included the reinvigoration and relaunch of the Multi Agency Looked After Partnership (MALAP) with various sub-groups. One of the sub-groups was employment based and would look at opportunities for young people; the apprenticeship issue would be key. Members agreed that this particular bullet point presented a priority issue for the Corporate Parenting Board.
The Executive Director of Childrens Services highlighted that the Peer Challenge activity had provided an excellent overview of the service, as well as sound preparatory opportunity because OFSTED, through focused visits, looked at care and leaver services.
That the Board would seek appropriate mechanisms to progress the implications of the item listed at the second bullet point from the bottom of page four of the report, and develop a programme of opportunities for corporate parents to meet with foster parents and children. As part of the process, appropriate training and preparatory activities would also be considered.
That in relation to supporting adoptive parents, the Director of Childrens Care would liaise with Adoption Tees Valley to ascertain potential opportunities for Elected Members to become involved in this work.
That the matter raised at the third bullet point from the bottom of page four of the report be considered a priority for the Board.