Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services covering Children’s Social Care and Education, attached.
The Committee received the Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services which provided a performance update on Children’s Social Care including key data demonstrating levels of demand and response across help, care and protection. The Report outlined key points including a small dip in the number of referrals to children’s social care which had been expected in the month of December, a decline in assessment timeliness due to increased volumes of work in the IRT teams, improvement in the timeliness of Initial Child Protection Conferences which had increased by 13% in the past month, timeliness of health checks had decreased slightly in part due to the pandemic and long term placement stability had increased by 1% whilst short term placements remained the same as the previous month.
The Report also included an Education and Learning Performance update, which provided an update on the current position regarding the COVID-19 context, highlighting that there had been a sharp increase in the number of positive cases in schools in the Autumn team. The peak was seen on 25th November when 1895 pupils in 214 schools were absent due to a positive Covid-19 test. As of this meeting, 2,156 children were absent due to a positive covid test and 306 were absent due to suspected cases. 152 staff were absent with a positive Covid case and 11 were absent with a suspected positive case. All children in Devon had higher than national average attendance.
Multi-Agency meetings had helped keep schools open and children physically attending and as a result attendance had remained above the National average, universally and for those in vulnerable groups. Members were also updated on the situation with regard to children’s mental health, those pupils entitled to Free School Meals (FSM), permanent exclusions and the number of children accessing Early Years funded places.
Members raised the following discussion points and questions with Officers in response to the Report:
- The number of children recorded as leaving and entering the care system did not seem to add up to the headline figures of new children entering the system. Officers offered to investigate this anomaly for future reports.
- Members raised queries about the numbers of Care Leavers in unsuitable accommodation, how it compared with other local authorities and were advised where care leavers were living with parents or relatives this may have been unsuitable if a risk or overcrowded. Members welcomed that the report highlighted how many care leavers there were and what unsuitable accommodation they are in given it was an area raised by Ofsted.
- Regarding Free School Meals (FSM), 2020 had seen the highest number of requests received due to Covid and lockdowns, with families impacted by furlough. Numbers were now returning to pre-pandemic levels. Having reviewed the criteria of those FSM applications that were rejected, the Service was able to identify that there had been a significant increase in the number of families claiming FSM but not eligible. Members were advised eligibility was a nationally set criteria linked to universal credit.
- Members considered the increase in the number of Fixed Term Exclusions (FTEs), however were advised schools were not seeing the usual corresponding reduction in the number of Permanent Exclusions, which were also increasing and was an area of concern.
It was MOVED by Councillor Hannaford SECONDED by Councillor Gribble and
The Children's Scrutiny Committee:
a) Welcomes the Children's Services Performance Report as a continued opportunity to have oversight of the performance of the service, including areas of weakness recognised by Ofsted such as Care Leavers;
b) recommends further discussion between Members and Officers on the content of the social care performance report to ensure they have a continued oversight including the inclusion of recruitment and retention figures, caseloads data and placement of the item on the agenda at future meetings;
c) records its concern and recognises the challenges in ensuring dental health checks for children are on time and permanent exclusions; and,
d) places on record it thanks to schools, teachers and all DCC Officers involved in the efforts to ensure children can learn in safe environments, including officers who have stepped into roles in schools to support those efforts.