Report of the Deputy Director, Children, Adults and Families
The Committee received a report and presentation on the Ofsted Improvement Plan which came from the focussed visit in September 2021 and the short inspection in April 2019.
It was reported that the findings were very positive, however there were a small number of areas for improvement. Using the learning from both inspections an action plan was developed which identifies six areas of improvement;
· Improve the quality and focus of written plans to ensure they are specific and targeted to meet the needs of individual children
· Secure access to services for those children in care who live out of the borough
· Improve the quality and impact of supervision and contingency planning for children in need
· Ensure routine inclusion of children and their families’ views in audits
· Development of contextual safeguarding arrangements
· Further development of domestic abuse provision
In terms of improving the focus of written plans it was reported that there has been the introduction of co-production of plan so social workers are able to support young people to lead and be inclusive in their own plans. Training for social workers has been developed on this issue and will be delivered from March to July 2022 and it is anticipated that all plans will be written to the child by August – October 2022.
The action around the development of contextual safeguarding arrangements came from informal feedback. This has led to a Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) worker post which will be incorporated into the contextual safeguarding team. There is also a Dedicated Return Home Support Worker (RHSW) in place to undertake return home interviews with all young people reported missing. There has also been a specialist Young People’s Domestic Abuse Worker (YPVA) role developed to support young people experiencing abuse in their own relationships. These roles will work closely with the Contextual Safeguarding Team.
It was reported that return home interviews have to be offered to every young person who is missing, however the young person may not necessarily take up the offer. Previously, there was a 30% uptake, however the Return Home Support Worker has been in post since September 2021 and engagement rates have increased to 65%, as at January 2022.
It was questioned as to what the co-production of plans involve. It was confirmed that this involves working with partners, parents and young people to look at the language used and help write the plans to the child or young person in language they understand.
It was also questioned as to the obligations on the authority in relation to children placed out of the borough. It was confirmed that if a Gateshead child is placed outside of the borough the service continues to ensure the placement is regulated, the social worker will visit the child to maintain contact and family time. Care proceedings and legal work around that child is still the responsibility of the authority. In terms of children placed out of borough and attending schools outside of the area it was noted that Personal Education Plans (PEPs) are regularly reviewed and the child or young person will only be placed in a school which is at least ‘good’ or better. The point was made that the authority would always strive to keep its looked after children in Gateshead, however this is getting more difficult.
It was queried what are the indicators used to define if a child is ‘missing’ and how persistent absences are being dealt with. It was confirmed that any child that is missing is reported to the police. The Return Home Support Worker will respond to any missing child no matter how long they were missing or how often they go missing. There is no differentiation around risk levels, the worker will speak to all those young people who have a missing episode.
It was questioned whether there was any comment from Ofsted in relation to the number of out of borough placements. It was noted that Gateshead is no higher than other local authorities in this respect and Ofsted did not flag this as an area for improvement.
Committee was advised that the Mockingbird Programme is working with local authorities to focus on foster carer recruitment and retention, looking at a ‘hub carer’ who becomes a support network contact point for carers. This is commissioned through DfE funding and a consultant social worker will run the programme. This is a national programme and it is hoped this will increase recruitment. Committee requested that a further report be brought back to a future meeting on the Mockingbird Programme.
Committee requested the rationale behind out of borough placements. It was confirmed that these can be placements across the UK and these are based on needs of the child, for example specialist providers which are not available in Gateshead. It is also around resources and what is available in terms of placement sufficiency. It was noted that a child could be placed out of borough but still live very local as only 10% of placements are over 10 miles away, also some Gateshead Foster Carers live outside of Gateshead. Committee asked for further information to be circulated around out of borough numbers.
It was questioned as to the meaning of ‘radical candour principles’. It was confirmed that this is about practitioners not assuming the obvious; nothing is beyond impossible.
RESOLVED - (i) That the Committee noted the information presented.
(ii) That further information be brought back on the
Mockingbird Programme and out of borough placement numbers.
(iii) That a progress update be received in six months.