The Committee received the presentation from Ms V Lines, Improvement Director working closely with the Chief Officer for Children’s Services on the post-Ofsted Improvement Plan in the context of the current response to COVID 19 (the presentation had been circulated with the Agenda).
The Department for Education (DfE) had temporarily suspended its usual conventions in response to an inadequate judgment and had instead agreed that the Council should publish an Improvement plan in response to COVID 19 addressing the most immediate risks to children and young people identified in the Ofsted inspection; that the Devon Children and Families Partnership Executive would act as a temporary Improvement Board to check and challenge the Improvement Plan; and that the Council would secure an independent expert to provide consultancy to the Chief Officer of Children’s Services.
The following points were included in the presentation:
× National Government had set clear priorities for local government that were shared across Children’s Services namely, to maintain the care system; to protect the most vulnerable; and to support the community;
× arrangements were in place for identifying the most vulnerable groups of children, working closely with schools and public health partners;
× there had been a high level of contact with vulnerable families, keeping in touch by using WhatsApp or video calls;
× Schools were making contact daily, twice weekly, or weekly, depending on the RAG rating, providing valuable support for families and professionals alike;
× close work was continuing with partners for those care leavers (currently seven) in unacceptable accommodation to ensure provision was in place to meet their needs;
× additional Personal Advisors had been recruited to reduce caseloads and improve levels of support for care leavers;
× there were currently two children in unregulated provision with high support needs and a national search was continuing to find appropriate provision;
× additional Case Progression Workers had been recruited to support social workers in the neglect and emotional abuse priority group;
× permanence planning had been prioritised with senior managers to ensure all children in care had an appropriate permanence plan in place; and
× the next phase of improvement planning would be a shadow Improvement Board to be chaired by a Commissioner appointed by the DfE, with the first such meeting being on 22 June.
Officers responded to Members’ questions that covered:
× one rapid review had been completed in respect of an infant injury, details of which the Chief Officer for Children’s Services would share with the Chair and Vice-Chair;
× there had been a deficit in the number of infant referrals, but rates were now back to pre-COVID 19 levels, additionally, there had been an increase in referrals from the general public;
× Public Health Nursing had continued to offer face to face contact for vulnerable families during the lockdown, but were now back as from 1 June delivering face to face contact for new-born babies;
× that Councillor Dewhirst, as the Corporate Parent Member responsible for housing, be invited to a meeting to consider a briefing paper on housing accommodation for care leavers and young people, in advance of a possible task groupto look at this;
× Officers undertook to provide a briefing note for Members on Personal Advisors for care leavers and the impact the new recruits would have on the Service;
× Members requested comparable data from Cornwall and Devon’s recruitment and retention scheme to aid their discussion on further funding;
× the next phase of the improvement plan would provide further focus on Quality Assurance and Permanence Plans;
The Chief Officer for Children’s Services gave an overview of the organisational structure going forward, details of which would be shared with Members, together with the terms of reference for the Improvement Partnership, sight of the Minutes and Specification for the new Commissioner. The second stage of the improvement plan would also be shared with Members.
The Cabinet Member for Children’s Services wished to record his thanks for how Children’s Services had responded to COVID 19, whilst incorporating the key elements of the Ofsted report, and to recognise the effort and innovation by the Service over the past few months.