The Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Children's Services and Neighbourhood Working, the Assistant Director of Children and Young People’s Services and the Joint Assistant Director of Commissioning, Performance and Inclusion attended the meeting to provide a progress report on the implementation of the Rotherham Looked After Children Sufficiency Strategy.
The Deputy Leader noted that the Rotherham Looked After Children (LAC) Sufficiency Strategy 2019-2022 identified the challenges that the borough faced in relation to providing care and accommodation to its Looked After Children that was high quality, enabled children to achieve the best outcomes and provided value for money. The Deputy Leader noted that the Strategy had been approved by Cabinet in June 2019 and that the report provided a progress report for the priority actions as detailed in the strategy.
The Joint Assistant Director of Commissioning, Performance and Inclusion in introducing the report advised that all figures included in the report provided a snapshot of the data, and that the current figures would have changed slightly from when the report had been prepared. The Joint Assistant Director advised however that over the long term the trend for all the data included in the report was travelling in the right direction and was showing a positive improvement.
The Joint Assistant Director noted that the timescales associated with delivering key areas of work, including the recruitment of additional in-house foster carers, and the development of in-borough residential provision, that would deliver better value for money, had meant that the children’s sufficiency budget remained significantly overspent. It was noted however that the actions being taken in these areas, due to their nature would take time to deliver the required outcomes.
The Joint Assistant Director provided the committee with a progress report on each of the key priorities identified in the LAC Sufficiency Strategy that included:
Increasing the number of in-house foster carers
It was noted that the previous recruitment strategy for in-house foster carers had not generated the level of interest that was required and as a result a new approach had been sought with Rotherham entering into an agreement with Bright Sparks to fundamentally change the way that the foster carer recruitment strategy was operated. The Joint Assistant Director provided an overview of the activity that had been carried out by Bright Sparks, including a purpose-built website to promote the Rotherham offer and social media activity. It was noted that the new activity had generated increased levels of enquiries and assessment visits than in previous years, and that this would consequently lead to the recruitment of more foster carers than in previous years.
Development of in-borough residential provision
The Joint Assistant Director provided information on activity to increase the amount of in-borough residential provision, including activity to reduce Rotherham’s reliance on the private market and increase local sufficiency by opening in-house residential homes. It was noted that further in-house provision would also reduce pressure on the placements budget and would also provide increased opportunities to support children with complex needs by offering joined up working opportunities with other services including schools and the child and adolescent mental health system.
Maintaining a clear understanding of sufficiency needs and value for money
It was noted that maintaining a clear understanding of sufficiency needs and value for money required joint working between commissioning, social care, performance and finance teams. The Joint Assistant Director advised that processes were now in place to ensure that finance and commissioning information was cross-referenced on a regular basis to retain an accurate picture of the current position. It was also noted that a new IT solution was being implemented to enable payments to providers to be made via the LiquidLogic system that would improve efficiency and also provide detailed performance information.
Exploring opportunities for regional collaborative working arrangements
The Joint Assistant Director provided information on regional collaborative working. It was noted that Rotherham continued to work with other authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber as part of the White Rose Framework. .
Reviewing the Rotherham Fostering Framework to ensure that it continued to deliver high quality placements and value for money
The Joint Assistant Director advised that to ensure that Rotherham was in a position to work through a formal procurement route that offered choice, quality and value for money, it has been agreed that the authority would join the White Rose Framework from 1 April 2020. It was noted that this action would provide Rotherham with further placement stability and increase the number of agencies with a wider pool of foster carers whilst allowing the authority to continue its strong working relationships with local providers.
Implementing a Dynamic Purchasing Framework to achieve sufficiency for Rotherham care leavers
The Joint Assistant Director advised that a new Dynamic Purchasing Framework was being put in place. It was noted that following consultation with young people and providers, a specification was developed and put out to tender, but that due to the number of questions in the tender and the high response rate it was anticipated that the awards would now be finalised by the end January 2020.
Working in partnership with Adult Care and Housing to ensure that sufficiency is achieved for vulnerable 16- and 17-year olds
The Joint Assistant Director advised that following a tendering process the contract to deliver this service had been awarded to Roundabout who began delivery in Rotherham in August 2019 and provided details of the support that Roundabout offered.
Members noted the low numbers of foster carers that were registered with the authority and expressed concern that this could result in children being placed in residential care instead of with foster carers. The Assistant Director of Children and Young People’s Services advised that the preferred care setting for children was always with a foster family but that in some cases a residential care situation was more suitable for some children who would find a foster care placement too challenging. The Joint Assistant Director advised that the majority of care was provided with foster families, but that due to the lack of Rotherham registered foster carers, some foster placements were not arranged with in-house foster carers, but with foster agencies. It was noted that as these placements were more expensive for the authority, recruiting more in-house foster carers was a priority for the authority.
Members asked how the quality of provision by third party providers was ensured and monitored. The Joint Assistant Director advised that children were always placed with high quality providers and that a child’s social worker would continue to work with a child once placed and ensure their care aligned with the Rotherham Family approach.
The Vice-Chair thanked the Assistant Director of Children and Young People’s Services and the Joint Assistant Director of Commissioning, Performance and Inclusion for attending the meeting and answering their questions.
(1) That the report be noted.
(2) That the Chair and Vice-Chair agree with Officers a timescale for the Improving Lives Select Commission to receive a progress report on the implementation of the Rotherham Looked After Children Sufficiency Strategy.