The Chair welcomed those present to the first meeting of the newly-established Children and Young Peoples Social Care and Services Scrutiny Panel.
H Watson, Executive Director of Childrens Services, and A Brown, Director of Childrens Care, had been invited to provide the Panel with an overview of the main services, falling within the Panels remit, provided by Childrens Services, and to highlight any priorities and/or challenges for the year ahead.
A map of Childrens Services current staffing structure had been circulated to the Panel prior to the meeting. The Executive Director explained that there were three senior leadership teams that reported to her directly - Childrens Care; Education; and Prevention and Partnerships.
The Director of Childrens Care provided an overview of the services for which she was responsible and highlighted that this was the current structure, however, consultation on a revised service structure was ongoing. There were four Heads of Service under her directorship and each Head of Service was responsible for a variety of teams, as follows:-
Head of Quality, Standards and Initial Response (Principal Social Worker)
- Multi Agency Safeguarding Team - including partners from the Police and Health Services. This was the entry point or front door where concern referrals were made to the Council and also the entry point for Early Help.
- Independent Review Team - responsible for case management of social work for children to ensure that the needs of the children were being met, to form an independent view and to challenge.
- Workforce Development - recruitment and retention continued to be a significant challenge not only in Middlesbrough, but in the North East and nationally.
Head of Assessment and Care Planning
- Eight Assessment and Care Planning Teams responsible for front line Social Workers undertaking assessments and drawing up intervention and care plans.
Head of Placements and Looked After Children
- Children with Disabilities Team - specialist team.
- Pathways - Leaving Care Team - specialist team - the offer to children leaving care was very different to children in care.
- Children Looked After Team - a new Regional Adoption Agency, "Tees Valley Adoption", based in Stockton, had been established and was now responsible for the recruitment of adopters.
- Fostering Team - current responsibility for fostering recruitment.
Head of Childrens Homes and Resources
- Childrens Homes - there were currently three childrens homes in Middlesbrough and one specialist short break facility for children with disabilities.
- Resources - consisted of three teams: Supervised Contact Service; 0-18 Parenting Support; Home Support for Children with Disabilities.
The Executive Director highlighted that, whilst there may be some cross-over, the Director of Educations service area would fall largely within the remit of the Children and Young Peoples Learning Scrutiny Panel. There would be cross over between both the Childrens Scrutiny Panels in terms of the services provided by the Director of Prevention and Partnerships and these were outlined as follows:-
Head of Strategic Services
- Believe in Families Childrens Services Transformation
- Voice of the Child/Participation Co-ordination - a Participation Officer was now in post and this area would be instrumental in providing a range of focus groups for young people with different needs.
- School Readiness Team
- Work Readiness Team
- Family Case Work Team
- Early Help Hub
- Business Change
- South Tees Youth Offending Service
- Middlesbrough Safeguarding Childrens Board
- Troubled Families Team
- Risk and Resilience Team
In terms of identifying pressures and priorities for Childrens Services, the following areas were highlighted:-
Social care funding and demand would continue to be a pressure should current levels of demand continue. This was a national issue and the Panel was informed that local government funding had been cut by 50% in real terms since 2010 and that, overall, by 2020 Councils would face a funding gap of around £2 billion for childrens services.
Corporate parenting was identified as a key priority that required strengthening.
'Believe in Families' was a significant transformation programme consisting of many strands including, in particular, training and development of staff in techniques to create good partnerships with families and communities.
A renowned international programme, Signs of Safety would be introduced. Evaluation of the programme had been positive and it was anticipated that the programme would have a positive impact in the long term in Middlesbrough once it was embedded into practices and outcomes.
Ensuring that a full range of placements were available for looked after children, including trying to increase the numbers and types of foster carers in Middlesbrough. This would help to reduce the number of children placed with independent foster carers, some of which were out of area placements. Residential placements would also be examined.
Strengthening 'edge of care' services to provide wrap around support to help stop children coming into the care system.
During the course of discussion, the following issues were raised:-
In response to a query, the Panel was informed that there were three residential homes in Middlesbrough. There had been significant investment to bring the homes up to the required standard and two had been rated as 'good' by Ofsted. The other was rated as 'requires improvement' however this was not in relation to the standard of care afforded but in relation to the matching of the children into the placements. Work was being undertaken to identify how the residential offer could be improved to meet the needs of children and provide more flexibility for children and carers.
In response to a further query regarding the Gleneagles Resource Centre, it was confirmed that the facility was available for short break and respite care for children with disabilities. In terms of accessing the facility, the Panel was advised that each fostering package was assessed on the needs of the child and the family as the levels of support required would vary.
Reference was made to the use of independent foster carers and it was acknowledged that efforts were ongoing to increase the number of foster carers in Middlesbrough. There needed to be particular emphasis on recruiting specialist carers to provide placements for sibling groups, teenagers, children with disabilities and mother and baby placements.