Cabinet Portfolio: Children’s Services and Neighbourhood Working
Strategic Directorate: Children and Young People’s Services
Consideration was given to a report submitted by the Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services in respect of the financial position of the directorate, which outlined the current budget position and pressures; in-year mitigations; future plans and progress of sustainability plan and demand management initiatives.
It was reported that demand on Children’s Services was high and had continued to rise across all key areas which included children in need of help, protection and children requiring care. The main factors that had impacted on demand were:
· Complex abuse inquiry and Operation Stovewood – the service has worked with over 600 children that have been referred from these investigations and there are currently over 200 open cases where children are in need, have a child protection plan or are in care;
· Improved social work practice intervention in legacy cases specifically re neglect; and
· National increase in statutory intervention and a national budget shortfall of £2bn predicted by 2020.
The Children’s Services current budget for 2018/19 was £58.7m with forecast expenditure at £71.7m (including a contribution of £1m from reserves for 2018/19 only). It was explained that an in-year pressure of £13m, which had increased compared to the £10m previously reported, was predicted after mitigations due to a continued net increase in the number of children admitted into care.
Both the Cabinet Member and the Strategic Director explained to Members that it was difficult to benchmark the financial position of the directorate given the recent history of Children’s Services in Rotherham. However, it was considered that there were reasons to be optimistic with in care numbers remaining stable, which had provided confidence that measures taken and investments previously made were having some impact.
Further confidence was taken from the average age of children coming into care reducing in the current financial year. All of statistics available provided by an indication that demand was beginning to level and slow a little. The Strategic Director indicated that the directorate would remain focused and concerned about the number of in-house foster carers and a lot of work was being done to improve the foster care situation.
In response to a question in respect of thresholds for bringing children into care, officers confirmed that Ofsted had reviewed cases during their inspection of the service in November and December 2017 and had not found any child in care where it was not warranted. Furthermore, a number of initiatives were in there infancy at the time of the Ofsted inspection, such as work around Edge of Care and Family Group Conferencing, which could enable a child to remain with family or extended family. Senior officers were confident that was enough oversight to know that Heads of Service were making safe decisions on a day by day basis.
Assurances were sought by Members that the directorate was getting to grips with the staffing pressures facing the budget in view of the projected overspend of £1.4m on employee costs. In response, reference was made to the significant reduction in the number of agency employees within the directorate compared to the previous financial year. It was noted that an underspend was projected on basic pay due to the number of vacancies in the service and that this was used to offset the anticipated overspend on other staffing costs. Additional clarification was provided in respect of the process followed before seeking agency staff to fill vacancies and it was explained that there was almost always a gap in recruitment given the timescales for recruitment following receipt of notice from a departing employee. Furthermore, all decisions were subject to challenge and oversight by the Workforce Management Board, a corporate group of Assistant Directors, chaired by the Assistant Chief Executive.
Reference was made to expected savings that had previously been identified from the directorate’s business support function and how delivery of savings was being monitored. It was explained that good progress had been made to implement the review of this service and new technology was being trialled, such as use of digital recording of meetings, to enable the delivery of savings.
Members sought clarification in respect of the impact of Operation Stovewood and the Complex Abuse Inquiry on the financial position. In response, it was confirmed that officers from the service were meeting with colleagues from the National Crime Agency and the Office of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner to identify the real costs associated with these areas of work.
1. That the financial monitoring update in respect of the Children’s Services be noted.
2. That greater clarity be provided to Members in future reports in respect of timescales and milestones for addressing in-year pressures.
3. That the Chair and Vice-Chair of Overview and Scrutiny Management Board and the Chair of Improving Lives Select Commission meet with the Deputy Leader and Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services to confirm future arrangements for monitoring of the financial position of the directorate by Overview and Scrutiny.