Update to be provided from Jeanette Richards, Executive Director of Children and Young People and Councillor Smith, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People.
Jeanette Richards, Executive Director for Children and Young People provided an update on the Improvement Plan for Children’s Services. Following the last Committee Members were advised that the Council expected publication of the monitoring visit in April 2023 however Ofsted advised it cannot be published until after the election period. The letter sets out the overview of the monitoring visit.
Jeanette Richards, Executive Director for Children and Young People advised that the Council continues to move forward with the improvement plan and journey and the plan has been refreshed. The Improvement Board continues to meet bi-monthly, and the alternate month Jeanette Richards, Executive Director for Children and Young People meets with the Department for Education for a performance challenge session. The Department for Education will have a six-monthly review in July and a further monitoring visit undertaken by Ofsted with a focus on complex safeguarding.
In addition Councillor Smith, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People informed members that the reconfiguration of the plan looked if the correct people are on the Improvement Board and this has been aligned with the Inspecting Local Authority Children’s Services framework so the plan works on what areas we need to improve.
Jeanette Richards, Executive Director for Children and Young People advised members that the update to the Improvement Plan is to RAG (Red, Amber and Green) rated against the progress achieved in relation to the various aspects. The priorities have also been reset and shifting priorities to multiagency responses and we now have sub-plans for key partners such as Greater Manchester Police and health partners. Work is taking place to create a highlight report on the plan which will be submitted to the Improvement Board and this can be brought to the Committee at a later date.
In response to a members question Jeanette Richards, Executive Director for Children and Young People advised that one issue in relation to our workforce profile is we have an over reliance on agency staff. Whilst the figure has decreased it does bring instability to the offer of support to children and families. We have recruited international social workers and the first international colleagues have arrived, in total four and are due to commence work next week and the rest will arrive over the summer months. We continue to work with colleagues in Human Resources and we continue to advertise for roles and use word of mouth to aid recruitment. As of now, most team manager roles are recruited to on a permanent basis and the service is optimistic that the managers will help recruitment to the other vacant roles. Roles have been created for advance practitioners that require practice educator training to be undertaken to facilitate university students to hopefully retain and be newly qualified social workers.
Members were reminded this is a nationally challenging issues and other authorities are in similar situations and those judged as inadequate are under enhanced challenges around recruitment. Councillor Smith, Cabinet Member Children and Young People advised we are modelling the staffing to look at being aligned with our statistical neighbours on how much agency staff we employ. The current aspiration is for Bury to aligned with our statistical neighbours and have an agency cohort of around 18%.
A member sought clarity on what is causing missed opportunities for Children and a lack of consistency in placement stability.
In response Jeanette Richards, Executive Director for Children and Young People advised there has been a recent launch of a permanence strategy, underneath the strategy is learning and development for the service to understand what more effective permanence planning would look like, and under this is key tasks and strong planning. What is referenced in the report is that more recent permanency planning is stronger and there is some improvement. Placement stability is around strong decision making, quality of practice, challenge and support from independent reviewing officers and court processes. Often issues arise as those component parts conspire to create a delay for children. Placement stability is the decision for children to come into care and to then match their needs with placements which is an issue in bury this is why there is a need to support the fostering case and to grow our own cohort to match Foster Carers skills to the needs of our children. Without strong social worker support around a child, it is difficult to understand when a placement is becoming fragile and that has fed into placement stability.
A member wished to highlight that the report notes a steady progress for an 18 month period during which the department has been under considerable scrutiny and the workforce under tremendous pressure.
In response to a member question regarding how trends could be viewed over the two year period. Councillor Smith, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People advised the highlight report will demonstrate progress. A more detailed update could be given out of the meeting detailing specific areas. Jeanette Richards, Executive Director for Children and Young People advised there is a lot of data that Children’s services hold and there is a list of key performance indicators which talk about the various topics discussed at Committee. The outcome of the Audit activity can be shared with the Committee to provide a summary of progress.
A member asked a question about national work to look at social worker recruitment and how to address concerns along with collaboration at a combined authority level. Members were informed by Councillor Smith Cabinet Member for Children and Young People that a Greater Manchester there is a pledge to keep agency costs down. Nationally there has been a commissioned report into social care led by Josh MacAlister and the response will be provided and give recommendations. Jeanette Richards, Executive Director for Children and Young People added that the combined authority and Directors of Childrens Services have come together to try and establish a Greater Manchester pledge to address mainstream recruitment to create a stronger and more compelling vision for officers to remail in local authorities rather than moving to agency workers.
Original Ofsted judgement in 2021 stated that we were leaving too many children at risk of harm. A member asked if this has now changed. In response Councillor Smith, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People advised you can never be one hundred percent sure there are no children at risk but every time we are monitored and expected they pick cases to review and they have never found one since Councillor Smith has been Cabinet Member that a child has been found to be at risk at that point and we had not acted.
It was agreed:
1. The highlight report for the Improvement Plan be brought to the Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee
2. Audit activity of the service to be shared with members of the Committee