Consideration was given to the progress report on the Sustainability Strategy for Children’s Services 2016 to 2021 which was subject to comprehensive internal review and external challenge completed by the Practice Partner for Children’s Improvement (Lincolnshire County Council).
The report set out in detail the progress of the sustainability plan initiatives, including details on:-
· Therapeutic Service.
· Family Group Conferencing.
· Special Guardianship Looked After Children.
· Pause Project.
· Edge of Care.
· Multi-systemic Therapy (MST).
· Reunification Project.
· Single Assessment Review Duty Team.
· Appointment of Newly Qualified Social Workers (x 22).
· Overall summary / conclusion on the investments to date.
A summary of delivery against the targeted outcomes from the Sustainability Strategy in 2017/18 was highlighted.
The individual projects were on target to deliver expected outcomes and achieve a reduction in expenditure compared to the alternative option of “do nothing”. However due to the significant increase in LAC to 521 (+7%) since 1st April 2017, there was a forecast net cost pressure on the CYPS budget of £2.592m. Without the initiatives in the Sustainability Strategy, the in-year pressure could have been more severe, a further £2.261m on top of the current overspend.
The significant increase in the number of looked after children referred to above is entirely due to the unforeseen and extraordinary impact of the complex abuse inquiry, of which the costs were substantial. Without this, CYPS would be reporting a break-even budget position. However, instead the forecast at 31st July, 2017 and reported to the September Cabinet was for a Directorate overspend of £2.592m.
The forecast included 39 children and young people in care who were directly linked to the investigation. It did not incorporate any further placements, up to an additional 70 based on “worst case scenario” estimates, which could exacerbate the current position by up to £2.3m in this financial year.
Members sought clarification in respect of the predicted trend for the numbers of looked after children. In response it was confirmed that the trend prediction took account of the national picture, as well as local circumstances in Rotherham, where the Complex Abuse Inquiry had increased demand. However, it was noted that activities from the Council had prevented 37 admissions into care.
The point was made that all Members were concerned about the overspend on the budget for Children and Young People’s Services, which could not be attributed fully to austerity driven by central government. In response, it was noted that the prediction for services for children and young people to be overspent by £2billion on a national basis by 2020. The feeling from the Local Government Association, councillors with responsibility for children and young people’s services and directors of those services was that the government needed to take similar action that which had been done for adult social care. It was confirmed that the Council had plan and the plan was having some effect, but it could not be denied that it was making the budgetary position very difficult.
Members sought assurances in respect of attracting and retaining newly qualified social workers to avoid further use of agency staff. In response, it was confirmed that the Council had been shortlisted as one of the best social work employers in the country and that would further boost the authority’s profile as a good employer which could only help with recruitment and retention. It was further reported that the Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Service was leading on work to introduce a regional agency agreement for Yorkshire and the Humber to help manage the market better, minimise cost and promote stability.
Members referred to the value of inspection regimes and expressed concern that such processes tended to make services focus on delivering to pass an inspection, rather than focusing on getting things right, which would consequently ensure that success in inspections would follow. In response, officers expressed agreement in principle with that viewpoint, but from experience of inspections, it was crucial to institute effective governance and performance regimes and to have a critical understanding of the inspection framework. It was a challenge to maintain a balance between doing the right thing and measuring progress for inspection frameworks.
Members queried whether the service should be planning for unexpected events. It was confirmed that the service could not plan for all unexpected events, but that it always learned from what it did. When projections were made, they were calculated on the basis of predictive analytics. One of the key issues that had not been properly understood was the impact of welfare reforms, which was having and expected to continue to have a significant impact.
1. That the progress report be noted.
2. That a further update report on the Sustainability Strategy be provided in March 2018.
3. That arrangements be made for a Member Seminar on impact of Universal Credit implementation.
4. That the work on the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Agency Review feed into the scrutiny review of agency staffing.