This report provides an update on the delivery of the previous strategy and the development of the new Strategy.
The Chair noted that this item has come before the committee to scrutinise and comment on the draft strategy prior to the final version being considered by Cabinet.
She welcomed the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People to the meeting, along with Helen Sweaton, the Joint Assistant Director for Commissioning, Performance and Quality and Andrew Dyson, Senior Auditor.
The Cabinet Member introduced the report and outlined that it gave an overview of the delivery of the previous strategy and the development of the new one. She gave an overview of listening events, core group meetings and benchmarking against best practice which had informed its content. The draft strategy provided latest data trends, priorities and delivery plans. The Cabinet Member welcomed any comments and feedback on its content and direction.
The Joint Assistant Director gave a short powerpoint presentation. It was noted that local authorities had a duty to provide or procure placements for children looked after by the local authority. The legislation and guidance included Children Act 1989, Sufficiency Statutory Guidance 2010, Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2011). The contents of the Sufficiency Strategy were informed by statutory guidance and regulated by Ofsted.
It was noted that whilst there was a duty to procure ‘placements’, the strategy referred to these as ‘homes’ as this was the stated preference of looked after children. The presentation highlighted progress made since the previous strategy was introduced and noted that some of the aspirations articulated in the previous iteration would be reflected in the update.
It was outlined that reliance on Independent Fostering Agencies had reduced but further work was needed to recruit more in-house foster carers. This aspiration was to be continued in the refreshed strategy/ delivery plan. Progress had also been made to develop local residential provision and secure block-bookings for Rotherham children to achieve best value. Work was to be continued to explore opportunities for regional collaborative working arrangements. A review of Rotherham Fostering Framework had been undertaken to ensure that it continued to deliver high quality placements and value for money. A dynamic purchasing framework had been implemented to ensure that sufficiency was achieved for Rotherham care leavers. Partnership working had also been undertaken with Adult Care and Housing to ensure that sufficiency was achieved for vulnerable 16- and 17-year-olds.
The Senior Auditor outlined that based upon the results of the audit, substantial assurance could be provided that the controls articulated in the strategy were operating effectively. This opinion contributed to the production of the Council’s Annual Governance Statement. The audit report made two recommendations which were accepted. In summary these were to ensure that the outcomes of the 2019-22 LAC Strategy were included in the refreshed document and to ensure the monitoring arrangements were included.
The Chair invited Members of the Commission to ask questions.
It was noted that the anticipated reduction in LAC number would provide an opportunity to look improve the quality of support. Clarification was sought on how outcome measures and aspirations related to the delivery plan, how they would be achieved and by what date. It was outlined that the measures of success could be aligned to the delivery plan. In response to a question on LAC pathways to mental health support, it was noted that this was not currently reported on. It was suggested that the Corporate Parenting Panel could consider this further.
Details were sought if any foster carers had left the independent sector to join the authority’s fostering service. It was noted that there had been limited success in doing this. Work was underway to change perceptions about the range of support available to foster carers. It was noted that this was a national issue.
Clarification was sought if consideration had been given to increasing payments to foster carers. It was confirmed that options were being developed to ensure that placements were sustainable, including consideration of Special Guardianship Orders where appropriate. It was outlined that fostering support workers worked closely with families to identify if additional support, including financial assistance, was required. The Chair requested that case studies were provided to illustrate how foster carers may access support.
It was noted that a major pillar of the strategy was the recruitment and retention of foster carers although it was recognised that this was an ongoing challenge. It was highlighted that a commitment had been made to ensuring that LAC had local homes. Recruitment and retention of foster carers had to the central to the strategy as in-house provision was the best and most cost-efficient way to help those children locally. It was noted that prospective carers were progressing to become foster carers and work was underway to retain the current cohort.
Clarification was sought on the acquisition of children’s home. Market inflation around building costs had made it difficult to secure appropriate properties. Assurance was given that the authority was working at speed and with due diligence to secure properties however, market fluctuations have presented difficulties. It was noted that the current provision was ‘getting it right’ and had received recognition from Ofsted.
Further details were sought regarding publicising the foster care officer widely in Rotherham and if consideration had been given to recruiting more carers from ethnic minority communities. It was confirmed that this was the case, however it was noted that more needed to be done to publicised different fostering offers such as respite care or day care if people could not commit to being full-time carers. It was noted that elected members had a role in publicising the in-house foster care offer across their networks.
Clarification was sought on safeguarding concerns particularly in relation to criminal exploitation and children missing from care and services for young people with sexually harmful behaviour. It was noted that because there were very small numbers affected by these issues it was difficult to provide data. However, assurance was given that consideration was given to these factors in the service specification for children’s homes and other commissioned or fostering provision.
Clarification was sought on how looked after children and care leavers views were sought to inform the strategy. It was outlined that the Assistant Director was engaging with the LAC Council shortly and their views would be incorporated prior to the submission to Cabinet. There was an ongoing dialogue with the LAC Council which was used to inform service developments.
Assurance was sought on the criteria for benchmarking arrangements. It was noted that the authorities identified as part of audit activity were sought on the basis of the challenges faced within their areas and how recently they had refreshed their strategies.
1. Members of the Improving Lives Select Commission note and inform the development of the new Strategy.
2. Members of the Improving Lives Select Commission note and endorse the governance arrangements for delivery of the Strategy
3. That further work is undertaken to ensure that the impact measures referenced in the Strategy and accompanying action plan are aligned to the aspirations.
4. That the in-house foster carer offer is explicitly referenced in the Strategy.
5. That the outcomes of engagement with looked after children and care leavers on the draft strategy is shared with the committee.
6. That further consideration is given to the role of elected members in promoting foster carer recruitment and how details of the foster-care offer is shared with different communities across Rotherham, including minority ethnic communities.