Venue: Committee Room 1, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, Essex, RM17 6SL. View directions
Contact: Wendy Le, Democratic Services Officer Email: Direct.Democracy@thurrock.gov.uk
Before taking apologies, the Chair stated there would be an extra item added after ‘Items raised by Thurrock Local Safeguarding Board’. The extra item was ‘Youth Cabinet Update’ which was a regular item on the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee but had unfortunately been missed off in error.
An apology was received from Kim James, HealthWatch Thurrock.
To approve as a correct record the minutes of Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 3 July 2018.
The Chair noted that Councillor Redsell was missing from the attendance list.
Under item 6, Youth Work Presentation, the Chair pointed out his comments in the last paragraph and asked that it be corrected. It should be amended to as follows:
…He also commented that out of the 95% of the money the government spent on youth services on the National Citizen scheme, only 12% of eligible youths received this. He believed the money would be better spent if it was devolved down to local government who would know where the young people were and how it could be spent locally.
Under item 7, Children’s Social Care Development Plan, the Parent Governor Representative 1, also asked for an amendment to be made which would be amended as follows:
…The Committee went on to comment on the 7 children suitable for adoption which some Members felt needed more context on why they were suitable. The Parent Governor also felt it would be useful to have the figures of the number of available adopting parents.
Referring to item 9, Work Programme, the Chair asked why there had been no report for the Youth Offending Service as had been requested at the last committee meeting. The Corporate Director apologised for the error in not bringing the report forward.
The minutes from the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 3 July 2018 were approved subject to the changes made.
Items of Urgent Business
To receive additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972.
The Chair brought forward one item of urgent business, an Ofsted letter which regarded the recent Ofsted visit on Thurrock’s Children’s Services that had been made available a few days prior to the meeting.
Before going through the Ofsted letter, the Corporate Director mentioned that the letter was a result of the recent inspection from Ofsted. It had begun from the annual review with Ofsted earlier in the year where Ofsted had suggested a focussed visit with Thurrock’s Children’s Services. The inspection had begun from that point and included an onsite visit for 2 days which had taken place recently.
The focus of the inspection was on children in need and those on a child protection plan. Inspectors looked through case records and social workers were asked questions. Further inspection would be required if the service received priority actions which would mean an immediate re-investigation within 3 months, however that was not the case in this inspection.
As there was no national set standard for social workers’ caseload, Thurrock’s Children’s Services set their own standards. The Ofsted letter had identified 3 areas that required improvement:
1) The quality and purposefulness of plans and written agreements;
2) Children’s access to advocacy services and opportunities and mechanisms for children to feed back their views and wishes in order to inform practice and service development; and
3) Workload pressures in some teams which was reducing.
Referring to the mentioned locally set capacity levels, Councillor Hague queried if there was a framework in place which included benchmarking and assessing what the service actually needed. The Strategic Lead said the threshold was set to 25 children in the assessment teams. The assessment team at the front door would do the initial assessment to identify what support, if any, was required. From this, cases were identified as requiring no further input or could be better supported through other tier services such as prevention support services or longer term solutions. In the last year, the service had restructured areas to ensure control of capacity levels.
The Strategic Lead went on to state that an additional team had been created to support and supervise social workers to ensure risks were assessed appropriately. In the family support team, another 6 social workers were in place along with a team manager to manage demand and cases ensuring support for social workers, children were seen and the quality of work. This was being reviewed on a weekly basis. The Strategic Lead also mentioned that in the longer term, the family support services aimed to get to a ‘good’ rating which was currently under review. In the assessment service, the service was looking at 25 children and they were working to 22 children at the family support service which would be the longer term work.
Referring to the first bullet point on the last page of the letter, Councillor Okunade expressed concern on the issue on ‘management oversight’ as this had been highlighted by Ofsted on the last visit. She queried what ... view the full minutes text for item 12.
Declaration of Interests
There were no declarations of interest.
Items Raised by Thurrock Local Safeguarding Children Board
This item is reserved to discuss any issues raised by the Thurrock Local Safeguarding Children Board.
The Thurrock LSCB Manager gave an update of the work undertaken within Thurrock’s Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB). As part of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, Safeguarding Children’s Boards would be dissolved but it was the Local Authority’s responsibility to have a new safeguarding structure in place to match the new arrangements.
Earlier in the year, the new Working Together 2018 was published with the expectations of the new safeguarding arrangements. This included:
· Moving the current accountability of 5 statutory partner agencies comprising of the Local Authority, Police, Health, Probation and Children and Family Court Advisory Support Services down to 3 to include the Local Authority, Police and the Clinical Commissioning Group;
· The new category of ‘relevant agency’ would play a role in safeguarding children; and
· Changes to the current serious case review process and accountability in the Child Death Review process.
To ensure a smooth transition, Thurrock LSCB has done the following:
· Setup a new strategic board to prepare an implementation plan which would be published 3 months prior to the change to the new arrangements that needed to be in place by September 2019; and
· Converse with the Essex and Southend Boards to see which areas could be improved on the ‘Working Across Essex’ approach.
As the existing Board was already doing well, the aim was to keep a similar process in place.
The Thurrock LSCB Manager stopped at this point to take questions from the Committee. Councillor Okunade sought clarification on what would become of the other 2 partner agencies that would be removed from the current 5 statutory partner agencies. The Thurrock LSCB Manager answered that they would form part of other services and over time, would see if they would become part of the relevant agencies. The existing partners would remain but the Board hoped to gain more.
Continuing on with the update, the Thurrock LSCB Manager referred back to the earlier committee meeting of 13 February 2018, where Members had queries on monitoring internet searches particularly suicide methods. To address those queries, he stated in internet safety for children:
· Each school already had a high quality security software system in place that monitored the usage of school IT and media equipment;
· A prevention self-harm toolkit was available on Thurrock LSCB’s website for schools to support teachers and young people going through challenging times. A similar approach was also being taken toward suicide ideation; and
· The updated Department for Education’s “Keeping Children Safe in Education” document detailed schools’ responsibilities in online safeguarding.
Additionally, Thurrock LSCB had been highlighting risks and benefits of the internet to their children in years 5 to 11 through “Walk On-Line” roadshows. An adult version was also available to parents and carers. The next roadshow dates are as follows:
· 14 November 2018 – for parents and carers.
· March 2019 – covers years 5 and 6 with 5,000 pupils due to attend.
The Thurrock LSCB Manager stopped at this point to take questions from the Committee. The Church of England ... view the full minutes text for item 14.
Youth Cabinet Update
Since the last quarter, the Youth Cabinet had been busy and had almost finished the preparations for this year’s Youth Conference which would be different to previous years. This was where students came together to discuss politics and other issues important to them. More work had been carried out on the Curriculum For Life programme and had been sent out to schools. Students would be able to pick out the topics they wanted to learn and receive lessons ranging from 5 minutes to 1 hour. Ballot papers termed ‘Make Your Mark’ had also been sent out to encourage students to sign up as these would be sent to Parliament upon closing. Youth Cabinet Member 1 had gained over 480 signed papers alone so far.
The Chair queried how the Youth Conference would differ to previous years and where it would be taking place. The Youth Cabinet Member 1 explained that this time round, there would be no normal workshops. The event would be held on 13 December 2018 and take place in High House Production Park, Purfleet.
As the current Short Breaks and Support Services for Disabled Children contract would expire in March 2019, the report outlined the procurement of a new contract. A procurement exercise would be undertaken to increase the number of providers as there were currently two delivering the service under the current contract. Quality of the service was the main criteria but savings may be possible due to increased competition. The Contract and Performance Manager explained the report would go to tender, run ideally for 3 years with an additional option to extend to 12 months.
Councillor Hague sought more details on the shortfall of providers and wondered if the service was looking for providers outside of Thurrock. The Contract and Performance Manager explained the service had 4 providers before which had now reduced to 2 which may have been due to the domiciliary care market as it was not as lucrative as it had been. Parents could also choose the personal budget now as it provided more opportunities than Short Breaks services. Councillor Hague went on to ask if more choice meant needing more providers. The Contract and Performance Manager confirmed that was the case and some services such as residential services were expensive which a personal budget could not cover but that option had to be there. By opening the contract up to tender, it would attract more providers.
Youth Cabinet Member 2 also asked how this shortfall of providers could be overcome. The Contract and Performance Manager answered that the issue had been with the previous providers where some had not met the specifications of the service. A lot of the providers had run into problems with the Care Quality Commission in terms of quality and standard. The service would be clear on the specifications required so providers would know what they were buying into. The Youth Cabinet Member 2 questioned whether the £400,000 per annum over the 4 years would be enough to which the Contract and Performance Manager answered it would be as most families could choose the personal budget. Previously, the £700,000 per annum was quite a lot whereas now, there was the community or residential services to choose from in Short Breaks.
The Chair asked if the families could use the personal budget to buy the domiciliary care services to which the Contract and Performance Manager confirmed they could. The Chair went on to query the number of families that used the personal budgets. The Contract and Performance Manager stated that 84 out of the 106 families they currently had were using the personal budget. The service ensured what was booked was used correctly.
The Youth Cabinet Member 3 questioned whether the £400,000 budget equalled out over the 106 families. The Contract and Performance Manager explained that this budget was provided over the cost of the year and that a number or families could access Short Breaks. It covered what families needed.
That the Children’s Services Overview and Security Committee agreed to the following recommendations ... view the full minutes text for item 16.
The Contract and Performance Manager gave a brief outline of the report which stated that the provision of home to school transport was a statutory service. The current service was expensive and the service aimed to remove discretionary service. Individual schools would be looked at to see who could use public transport. The proposal was for the procurement of a framework contract for children’s transport over a 4 year period. It would enable subsequent call off arrangements to be made that were flexible and responsive to changing journey needs e.g. downsizing a minibus carrying 1 child to a taxi instead.
Councillor Hague asked the Officer to expand on what the programme would do from paragraph 3.4. The Contract and Performance Manager answered that safe and unsafe home to school routes would be looked at. She gave an example of one school that had an unsafe route as it was also used by contractors. Councillor Hague went on to ask if this had a positive impact on buses as they were being used more. Stating that all bus routes had been looked at to ensure optimum use, the Contract and Performance Manager also mentioned inviting bus providers in for discussions. Talks included what services the bus providers could offer and support in home to school transport. There had been some positive comments from bus providers to run more buses during school times.
The Parent Governor Representative 1 sought clarification on what was considered an unsafe route and also on the meaning of ‘call off activities’ in paragraph 3.6. The Contract and Performance Manager explained that unsafe routes could include things such as the location of the school and roads with high speed vehicles. To overcome these, pelican crossings would be installed and speed limits reduced. The priority was to get children to school safely and the same went for unplaced children who could be attending a school that was not within their immediate area. ‘Call off activities’ were ad-hoc funds that would give the flexibility to change routes if needed.
Following on from the previous question, the Chair asked how an unsafe route was measured. The Contract and Performance Manager explained that there were a certain set of criteria from the Department for Education that had to be met to ensure a safe route. This was different for each school which was why schools had to be looked at individually. The Chair commented that it was more of a desktop exercise and a child should be taken by the hand to walk the route. The Chair felt sending officers out was not the same given the age so he was concerned on the methodology used. He wanted these concerns to be fed back to the Cabinet Committee when the report was due there for decision.
Adding onto this, the Parent Governor Representative 1 thought every route was unsafe. She referred particularly to Treetops School and Woodside Academy due to the increase of vehicles. The Contract and Performance Manager said these were ... view the full minutes text for item 17.
The report was presented in turns by the School Improvement Manager and the Head of Virtual School. Officers would pause in between sections of the report to take questions and comments from the Committee.
Stopping at section 7, Officers took questions.
Referring to the disadvantaged gap in 6.9, Councillor Anderson questioned whether the gap would be eliminated if it continued to reduce to which the School Improvement Manager confirmed it would. The Parent Governor Representative 1 sought clarification on the ‘fsm’ terminology in the graph in 3.5. The School Improvement Manager answered it was abbreviated for ‘free school meals’.
Stopping at section 9, Officers took questions.
Councillor Hague queried the fundamental risks of going forward in terms of maintaining a trajectory. The School Improvement Manager replied that Thurrock was doing better than some schools when compared on the Ofsted figures. She stated they were doing well with around 89% of schools that were judged to be good or better, when the national average was 88%. However, some schools’ data in Thurrock had dropped due to recruitment issues. Adding on, the Church of England Representative gave praise to schools and teachers for their hard work. She continued by stating that a straight trajectory of the figures could not be expected every year as each year was a different set of children.
The Chair welcomed the closing of the disadvantaged gap at the end of key stage 1. He asked what the strategy would be on closing the gap at the end of key stage 2. The School Improvement Manager said the learning would come from schools that had closed their disadvantaged gap to develop strategies to support schools with wider disadvantaged gaps. It was not always easy to determine the gap as not all parents would claim the free school meals which was where the figures were pulled from.
Referring to GCSEs on page 51, the Chair noted some schools had improved tremendously well but there were also a number of schools declining e.g. William Edwards. The Chair questioned when the decline would become a cause for concern. Stating that the trend would have been picked up by the school themselves, the School Improvement Manager added that the service would be visiting the schools for discussions on the trend.
As figures could not be reported from Palmer’s College due to it being a part of Southend Council, the Chair stated there had to be a way to report these figures as the young people attending were living in Thurrock. The School Improvement Manager replied the figures could be included but it would not count as Thurrock’s figures.
Referring to 7.2, the Youth Cabinet Member 1 mentioned the figures of the graph and expressed concern on the decrease in Maths 4+ and English 5+. He stated that as the grade bands would move up to 5 being a pass in GCSEs the following year, it would mean many students would not pass their GCSEs. He asked the service’s strategy on ... view the full minutes text for item 18.
Presented by the Strategic Lead for Information Management, the report outlined the number of complaints and key issues arising from these within the Children’s Services. This was for the year 2017/18.
Referring to page 55 of the report, Councillor Anderson said it was good to see the increase in the complaints response times. He asked if there was a process in place to sustain this figure. The Strategic Lead for Information Management explained there were processes in place to track and trace complaints. The service did their best to maintain performance.
Councillor Okunade queried whose decision it was for a complaint to go through to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). The Strategic Lead for Information Management answered that ADR took place if a complainant was unhappy with their Stage 1 response. The complaints team would then work with the service and complainant to agree a resolution to the complaint.
The Parent Governor Representative 1 questioned who decided when a complaint was complex. The Strategic Lead for Information Management said it could be a combination of the volume of issues raised within the complaint along with any risks to the complainant.
That the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee considered and noted the report.
Presented by the Corporate Director, the report outlined the current arrangements for the monitoring and oversight of children. It covered areas of:
· Child Safety;
· Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services;
· Staff Survey Results;
· Performance Standards;
· Management and Reporting Progress;
· Creating a Positive Learning Culture; and
· Data Quality.
Referring to section 6, the Chair commented that some of the results from the staff survey were poor. Explaining that work was being undertaken with staff to improve in those areas, the Corporate Director stated that additional teams were also being created. He recognised that social work was stressful and the feedback from Ofsted had been that most were grateful for the support given from managers. The service was looking to support staff through adding in additional resources. Agreeing with the Chair on the poor results of the staff survey, the Church of England Representative also congratulated the service on picking up on the issues found within the survey.
The Parent Governor Representative 2 explained she came from a social work background and understood that the issue of working late was one found in all boroughs. She felt it was a national issue that had to be addressed due to the complexity of the work undertaken by social workers.
Councillor Okunade queried if there were issues and reasons for permanent staff leaving the service. The Corporate Director stated the turnover was low and the service was good at bringing in newly qualified social workers. Many who had joined Thurrock had chosen to stay.
That the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee noted the current arrangements for safeguarding children.
Standing orders were suspended at 9.22pm to an additional 15 minutes in order to allow the Committee to finish the agenda items.
The report was presented by the Assistant Director which outlined the continuing high level of demand within Thurrock’s social care. An area of focus was on the number of adopted children in 2017/18.
There were no questions or comments from the Committee.
1.1 That the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee noted the areas of improvement in Children’s Social Care and work undertaken to manage demand for statutory social care services.
Members queried the agenda items to be added on for future Committee meetings as the programme showed a few items only. The Corporate Director would discuss with the Chair.
Chair's Resignation from Children's Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee
The Chair expressed his disappointment that there had been no report given into the serious whistleblowing allegations as had been requested by Members at the last Committee meeting. He stated that they had not expected to see details but only for the Committee to be taken seriously.
Upon not seeing the report on the agenda for that night’s Committee meeting, the Chair had approached Officers and queried on this. He had been told by Officers that the report would be covered in item 10 of the agenda to which he felt it did not.
The Chair continued by saying the Committee had not expected to see names or fine details but only asked for reassurances that allegations were being investigated. He thought the report given was ‘nothing more than a white wash’ and that the members of staff that had made the allegations had been let down as well as the Committee and the children of Thurrock.
The Chair stated he did not like to criticise Officers but as the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Members had to be provided with an overview of the services provided for children and young people. Without this, the Committee could not provide a real overview and real scrutiny of the services.
As the Chair had felt he and elected Members of the Committee had been treated unfairly by Officers, along with the lack of report produced, the Chair felt his concerns increased. With that, he resigned from his role as Chair of the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee with immediate effect.