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Agenda item

Demand Management and Placement Sufficiency


Councillor Watson, Deputy Leader, introduced the report outlining that the numbers of Looked After Children (LAC) had increased significantly over the course of the past year by 116 (which equated to a 21% increase). Councillor Watson cited the historical failings of poor social practice; complex abuse investigation and the National Crime Agency operations had contributed to the high numbers of children and young people in care and without these factors, qualified that there was an approximate 4% increase in numbers which was broadly in line with the national average.


The Head of Service (Looked After Children) stated that 2017 Ofsted Inspection ‘dip-sampled’ numerous cases and it concluded that no child was in care inappropriately. Whilst there was confidence that care decisions were robust, the increase in numbers was having an impact on placement sufficiency and related budget.


The numbers of Looked After Children (LAC) had increased from 488 at the end of 2016/17 and from 590 in January 2018 to 651 by the end of August 2918. Whilst this was reflective of a national trend of increasing numbers of children in care the rate of increase within Rotherham was even more marked.


As a result the provision of placements had not been able to keep pace with this increased demand and the reliance on commissioned placements (Independent Fostering Agencies/IFAs and Out of Authority Children’s Homes/OoAs) had increased from 48.3% (293 of 607 children) in January to 52.2% (340 of 651 children) in August. Of more concern, this had increased from 43% at the end of 2016/17 when only 211 of 488 LAC were in commissioned placements.


Both the increase in LAC numbers and increased reliance on commissioned placements presented the most significant budget pressure currently being faced by CYPS. As at the 28th August 2018 the budget projection for OoAs was £12.3M for 62 placements at an overspend of £3m; and for IFAs was £11.5M for 278 placements at an overspend of £3.7M. As a result if current practice was perpetuated, the current £6.7M overspend was likely only to increase over the course of the lifetime of the Sufficiency Strategy.


The Head of Service suggested that there were grounds for cautious optimism that ‘the tide is beginning to turn’, based on the following evidence:-


·           In the first 5 months of 2018 the average net monthly increase in LAC numbers was 9.4. In the following 4 months this had reduced to 3 (although large sibling groups being admitted to care can easily revers this improving trend.)


·           Over the same period the average age of admission of a child to care reduced from 8.8 years in the first 5 months of the year to 6.5 in the following 4 months. This is relevant as performance data evidences that the younger a child is admitted to care the shorter their time spent in care, the lower their average placement costs and the sooner they are likely to be supported to a permanence placement.


·           In 2017/18 the average number of care proceedings instigated per month was 19.5. Thus far in 2018/19 this has reduced to an average of 15.4. 


The Service was taking a dual approach to achieve better placement sufficiency; which involved working strategically to safely reduce the numbers of LAC by reducing admissions and accelerating discharges from care (reduce demand); and work more forensically to increase the availability of in-house placements (increase supply).


In respect of managing the demand, a range of initiatives have been implemented which had had an impact. These include:


·           Increase in senior management oversight

·           Right child right care project

·           Edge of Care panel

·           Coming Home Project

·           Placement Commissioning

·           Increased In-House Foster Care Provision


Discussion ensued with the following issues raised:


Were face-to-face exit interviews undertaken with foster carers who chose to leave the service? If so, were there any common issues arising from these surveys?


-          It was outlined that people decided to stop fostering for various reason, including changing family circumstance; changes to long-term placements, bereavement etc. An issue that has been raised in the exit interview was the stress that foster carers experienced through the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer) process. LADO was enacted if a foster carer (or professional) has had an allegation made against them, whereby an investigation would take place to clarify the validity of those allegations. As a result of exit feedback, a review of the support package to foster carers was to be undertaken, to enable foster carers to be re-engaged if allegations were addressed and resolved appropriately.


Has there been a change in the LADO process and has this been reflected in issues raised through exit feedback?


-          The function was shared across the service rather than one specific officer who was the designated LADO. The Head of Service had co-opted himself onto LADO process to retain oversight of the investigation of foster carers and to make sure the process is concluded in the most timely manner possible and communication is maintained.  This sent an important message to foster carers that they were being supported and valued as professionals. Fortunately, there were relatively few LADO investigations so the Head of Service’s involvement was sustainable.


-          It was highlighted that other support was available including the Mockingbird Project. There are two current projects and a third was about to be launched. The project has had a positive impact and provides mutual support to foster carers. For the hub carer who does not have any full-time placement they had the capacity to support any carers facing an allegation or in an investigation.


Clarification was sought if there had been any resignation of foster carers who had been involved in the Mockingbird Project. The Officer committed to providing a written response to this query.


An update was requested on the marketing strategy, particularly in respect of respite foster carers and increasing numbers of BAME foster carers.


-          The Head of Service responded that the suggestion that there is an option to respite carers rather than making a full-time commitment would be incorporated into the revised strategy. In terms of BAME carers, there are a growing number of looked after children of Muslim faith and the Council had a very limited number of Muslim foster carers. Positive links have been made to the Muslim community leaders and Mosques to develop the Muslim foster care project and engage with the wider community. Revisions have been made to policy and procedures as a result of these discussions. Councillor Khan affirmed that the work was positive and gave further examples of how awareness of this initiative was being raised across the borough.


Councillor Senior stated that Elected Member were there to assist and could publicise recruitment campaigns with constituents; family and friends. A request was made for publicity/ information to be circulated to Members


How many foster carers resigned in the first 12 – 18 months after recruitment? How does this compare with other Local Authorities?


-          There have been a number of foster carers resigning in a relatively shortly after recruitment which was a concern. The Head of Service would provide a written update on numbers. There were no comparisons with any other local authorities.  Processes have been reviewed to assure that assessments were sufficiently robust and foster carers were prepared for the challenges the role will bring. In addition, training and support have been examined to ensure that it is appropriate particularly in the first 12 months of the role. Placement matching has also been reviewed.


-          Feedback from our foster carers was highly complementary about the support level that they received both from their supervising social workers but also from the children's social workers. A small number of foster carers from the independent sector were transferring to the local authority because of the level of support.


Citing an example from the report, clarification was sought on the process of taking children into care and discharging them from care safely within a two week period.


-          The children were taken into care under the Police Powers of Protection over the course of a weekend. Rather than pursuing an interim care order as would have been practice in the past, a seventy-two hour intensive assessment was undertaken with the family and extended support networks. As a result of this the children were returned home safely, subject to a child protection plan. The parents are fully engaged and the children are supported to live at home. Learning from this was shared with partners and symptomatic of how practice has changed, with social workers considering options and managing risks.


Clarification was sought about the numbers of children discharged from care as part of the Right Child Right Care who were not part of work-streams.


-          As the scheme developed and became more established practice, team managers were able to identify children who could be considered as part of the project who were not in scope originally. On the basis of enhanced support, more foster carers were taking up Special Guardianship Orders or other routes, facilitating the safe discharge of children from care.


What role was the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) in advocating permanency where this is in the best interests of the child?


-          Previously, the whole service was slow to identify a permanence plan for children in care. IROs are part of this. Permanence is considered at a much earlier stage, both in and out of the care system. There are long term plans identified for 44 children.


An explanation of the status of Regulation 24 foster placements and what would happen if after review family members no longer wished to look after the child.


-          The vast majority of those Regulation 24 placements were converted into Special Guardianship Orders (SGO)/ Child Arrangement Orders (CAO) or the children returned to the care of the birth parents over the course of the care proceedings. The conversion to SGO/CAOs achieved permanence for those children. The carers received the same level of financial support as they would receive had they been foster carers and that in line with the with the SGO regulations.


Clarification was sought about the status of the Sufficiency Strategy (2017-2021) and when this was last updated. It was noted that the cover report did not reference the eight action points raised in response to OFSTED recommendations.


-          It was acknowledged that the Strategy did not reflect the progress made since its launch and a commitment was given for it to be refreshed and relaunched.


Given the additional investment of £12m, the Strategic Director was asked if sufficient progress had been made by the service.


-          The Strategic Director gave assurance of his confidence in the rapid progress/improvements that had taken place as reflected in the OFSTED judgement. The challenge was to make impact at the pace required, however he was confident that the was service was moving in right direction.


The Chair stated that that progress and improvement had been made across the service, however she recognised that the service was still judged by OFSTED as “requiring improvement” and expressed concerns about the challenges of managing future demand, improving outcomes for looked after children and the pace at which this was to be achieved.


RESOLVED:  (1) That Improving Lives Select Committee notes the contents of the  report.


(2) That the refreshed Sufficiency Strategy is submitted to Improving Lives Select Commission in March 2019, with specific reference to the eight OFSTED action points for improvement.

Supporting documents: