Agenda and minutes

Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 28 July 2022 6.30pm

Venue: St George's Centre, Pembroke Road, Chatham Maritime, Chatham ME4 4UH. View directions

Contact: Stephanie Davis, Democratic Services Officer 

Note: *Please note that this meeting will be livestreamed on MS Teams Live Events* 

Media

Items
No. Item

141.

Apologies for absence

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Carr, Howcroft-Scott and Thorne.

 

Apologies for absence also received from Georgina Bentaleb, Clive Mailing and Lenny Williams.

 

142.

Record of meeting pdf icon PDF 421 KB

To approve the record of the meeting held on 8 June 2022. 

Minutes:

The record of the meeting held on 8 June 2022 was agreed and signed as correct by the Chairman.

 

143.

Urgent matters by reason of special circumstances

The Chairman will announce any late items which do not appear on the main agenda but which he/she has agreed should be considered by reason of special circumstances to be specified in the report. 

Minutes:

The Chairman agreed to accept item 6, Attendance of the Portfolio Holder for Adults Services, as an urgent item permitted under 100B of the Local Government Act 1972 to enable the Committee to consider this item at the same time as the Annual Report of the Reviewing Officer Service.

 

144.

Disclosable Pecuniary Interests or Other Significant Interests and Whipping pdf icon PDF 471 KB

Members are invited to disclose any Disclosable Pecuniary Interests or Other Significant Interests in accordance with the Member Code of Conduct. Guidance on this is set out in agenda item 4.

 

Minutes:

Disclosable pecuniary interests

 

There were none.

 

Other significant interests (OSIs)

 

There were none.

 

Other interests

 

There were none.

 

145.

Annual Report of the Independent Reviewing Officer Service pdf icon PDF 822 KB

This report outlines service activity and delivery throughout the period from April 2021 until March 2022.

 

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

The IRO Manager introduced the report which outlined service activity and delivery throughout the period from April 2021 until March 2022.

 

Members then raised a number of comments and questions, which included:

 

  • Children exiting from Care – a Member asked if there had been any

improvement to the number of children whose exits from care as stated in the report were unrecorded or mis-recorded. The officer stated that this area of work remained a priority and an update would be provided in the next report.

 

It was further commented that the potential safeguarding issue this

posed was of a concern. The officer assured Members that this related to children’s exit from care due to a court decision to return the children to their home, to another family member or due to the fact that they had turned 18. The exits from care in the report did not relate to children who were missing from care or home as that was recorded separately.

 

  • Workforce – it was asked what was being done to attract a more diverse workforce in order to meet the needs of children as it was noted that in the last year, all staff on the team were female. The officer said that the recruitment process was conducted under fair equality and transparent protocols and the service worked to encourage applications from a broad range of people in order to build a diverse workforce. Since this reporting period, a male IRO was now working in the department, and another had been recruited to post.

 

  • Dispute Resolution Notifications (DRN) – it was commented that there was a lack of context provided to be able to understand the figures presented due to a lack of benchmarking that could be used for comparison. The officer informed the Committee that there was no national benchmarking in place for dispute resolution notifications and whilst this had been discussed amongst the IRO leads in the southeast region, it was difficult to do given how services were set up and data was collected. The differences in different local authorities would have to be taken into consideration in order to build an accurate picture.

 

  • Management Reporting Line – it was asked what the situation was with management line of reporting in order to alleviate any conflict of interest. It was also asked if obtaining of independent legal advice by IROs’ where needed had been an issue. The Director of People said that management line of reporting was managed in a way to ensure there were no conflicts of interest, or direct reporting to operational management by heads of departments.

The IRO Manager advised that in terms of legal advice, a reciprocal arrangement was being established to ensure that independent IROs would have access to independent advice should they require it.

 

  • Training – it was asked if all staff were up to date with and had received appropriate training. The officer said that she was assured that all staff were up to date with the level  ...  view the full minutes text for item 145.

146.

Attendance of the Portfolio Holder for Adults' Services pdf icon PDF 135 KB

This report details the area covered by the Portfolio Holder for Adults’ Services that falls within the remit of this Committee and updates the Committee on activity in relation to the Children’s Independent Reviewing Office (IRO) for the period April 2021 until March 2022. This team is part of the wider Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Service. This report provides a high level and strategic coverage of this service’s activity and should be read in conjunction with the accompanying annual IRO report that provides quantitative and qualitative evidence relating to the IRO team in Medway as required by statutory guidance.

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

Councillor David Brake, Portfolio Holder for Adults’ Services, with responsibility for the Children’s Independent Safeguarding and Review Service, was in attendance and took questions from the Committee.

 

Members raised several questions and comments which included:

 

  • Family Courts - in response to a question on whether Medway family courts were up to date with the backlog of cases, the Portfolio Holder stated that family courts across the country had experienced backlogs. Medway family courts would be based in Gun Wharf in the very near future which would be beneficial for all in terms of increased capacity. The Director of People added that whilst courts had returned to pre pandemic service, there was still backlog that was being addressed with cases monitored and tracked as appropriate. The Director of People added that the situation with care proceedings was not back to normal but there was ongoing improvement.

 

  • Reviews - it was asked if pressure was being put on IROs to produce review documentation within 15 days and not the target of 20 days as per statutory guidance. The Portfolio Holder said that the IROs had worked hard to complete within 15 days to get ahead of workloads, where possible, and ensure young people were reviewed as quickly as possible.

The IRO Manager added that IROs wrote the review details and produced this within 10-15 days. They were then supported by Business Support Officers in completion of the administrative tasks associated with ensuring they were electronically sent with the appropriate data protection measures in place in a timely manner.

 

  • Audit – in response to a question on awareness of completion of audit assurances in the services, the Portfolio Holder assured Members of his awareness of audits in the services and added that all issues of concerns, including the service response, were brought to his attention.

 

  • Documentation of Children’s Files - it was asked what had been done to ensure improvement in accurate documentation of children’s files as there appeared to be a discrepancy in the figures presented. The Portfolio Holder said that the discrepancy of figures in DRN was that the difference between the numbers was due to the number already in the system and as this was an annual report, those cases did not meet the cut-off point of production of the report.

 

 

Decision:

 

The Committee noted the report and thanked the Portfolio Holder for his attendance

 

147.

Annual Fostering Report 2021-22 pdf icon PDF 278 KB

The Annual Report for the Fostering Service sets out how the in-house fostering services met the needs of Medway’s children in care in the year from April 2021 to end of March 2022 and establishes the work which should be undertaken in the coming year.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

The Head of Service, Provider Services introduced the report whichset out how the in-house fostering services met the needs of Medway’s children in care in the year from April 2021 to the end of March 2022 and established the work which should be undertaken in the coming year.

 

Members then raised a number of comments and questions, which included:

 

The quality of work of the fostering panel was commended.

 

  • Advertising – it was asked what the costs involved and the effectiveness of radio advertising was. The officer advised that the costs were not at hand and would be provided at another date. The budget for advertising was split between various methods of campaigns. People that come forward were asked how they heard about the service, and it was found that the most effective way of advertisement was through social media. Radio advertising provided a lot of exposure into the community that the service wanted and needed to recruit from. Comprehensive information on the most effective method of recruitment of foster carers would be included in future reports.

 

  • Respite Care - in response to a comment that payment for respite care remained insufficient, in particular against the rising cost of living and a question as to whether it would be considered in the next stage of the review, the officer said that a lot of work had been done within the service on this matter. The policy had been strengthened and additional means of supporting and rewarding carers financially if a child is taken out for an activity had been introduced.

 

  • LGBT Carers - it was suggested that a stall at the upcoming Medway Pride event could assist in attracting foster carers in the LGBTQ community. The officer welcomed this suggestion and said that the LGBTQ community was very active in the adoption space, and it would be welcomed if that level of activity could be replicated in foster caring.

 

  • Special Guardians – in response to a comment that more recognition was needed for the work of special guardians, the officer acknowledged the improvements needed in this area. A consultant had been brought in to conduct a deep dive review and as a result an improvement plan had been put in place. An open day was due to taken place for special guardians to enable them to share their experiences and enable the Council to gather information on their needs.

 

  • Legal Challenges and Disputes – it was asked what support was in place for foster carers if and when faced with legal challenges. The officer said that it was up to the courts to decide who the parties to proceedings were. It was down to the Judge’s discretion to allow participation of any party in proceedings. If the Judge allowed the foster carers to be part of proceedings, they would then be entitled to legal aid for representation. The local authority had a duty to put forward a case that advocates in the best interest of children and cannot  ...  view the full minutes text for item 147.

148.

Attendance and Persistent Absence in Schools pdf icon PDF 222 KB

This report provides an overview of attendance in Medway with a particular focus on persistent absence. It clarifies the statutory duties that the council holds in relation to attendance, outlines the strengths and areas for improvement and actions being taken.

Minutes:

Discussion

 

The Head of Education Performance introduced the report which provided an overview of attendance in Medway with a particular focus on persistent absence.

 

Members then raised a number of comments and questions, which included:

 

  • Data - in response to comments that the data in the report were out of date and not in line with the DfE figures on their website which provided data on absence rates for the entirety of the last academic year. Officers said that the data reported for 2020/21 was for the full academic year, the most up to date release of data at the point of writing the report was the autumn 2021 data. The release date for the autumn to spring term would be October 2022 and the release date for the entirety of the 2021/22 full academic year would be March 2023.

 

A Member further commented on the data limits in the report in comparison to the national data collation and advocated for more up to date data even if it was provisional data. It was asked what the process involved in the reporting of attendance between the Government and the Local Authority. Officers said that the census data that had been filtered, checked and finalised was what was contained in the report, the online DfE data was provisional and subject to change.

 

  • Mental Health - it was commented that the issue could only be looked at in context with wider issues and whilst the presenting issue may be attendance, there were wider underlying issues that had to be addressed.  Officers agreed that more work needed to be done to support families as well as schools and this was an area that was being looked into as part of the task and finish group review.

 

  • Fines – it was noted that Medway absence figures had increased by 23.5% and it was asked if there were resources in place to issue more fines in the coming academic year, due to the increase in persistent absence rates which remained a problem in schools. The number of Penalty Charge Notice had declined significantly whilst there was a distinct increase in absence. Officers said that they worked closely with schools to ensure that they had the necessary evidence to initiate a prosecution on their behalf. During the pandemic, prosecutions were not possible and there were still backlogs that needed to be addressed as prosecutions that had been delayed were still being dealt with. It was anticipated that there would be an increase in prosecutions due to the growing rate of persistent absence.

 

  • Alternative Provision – concern was raised for young people in alternative provision as their absence from school could be attributed to other factors. It was asked whether a fuller report would be provided in the issues experienced and if the task and finish group would address this as part of the review. The officer said that the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) green paper posed the question on how young people were supported  ...  view the full minutes text for item 148.

149.

Outcomes of consultation on proposals to change three grammar schools from single gender to co-educational provisions pdf icon PDF 549 KB

This report outlines the outcomes of the consultation on proposals for three Medway grammar schools to change their admissions arrangements from single sex to co-educational provisions.

A subsequent report to Cabinet, subject to comments from the Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee, will request Cabinet approval for proposals to continue, the next stage of which is for the three schools to formally consult on changing their admissions arrangements and to recommend to full council to fund the necessary building modifications to ensure appropriate facilities are available.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion

 

The Head of School Servicesintroduced the report which outlined the outcomes of the consultation on proposals for three Medway grammar schools to change their admissions arrangements from single sex to co-educational provisions.

 

Members then raised a number of comments and questions, which included:

 

  • Response rate – Members were disappointed in the low number of participation and responses to the consultation. It was commented that the consultation document was too complicated which may have impacted on the understanding of the questions contained in the document. It was considered that more could have been done to engage and understand how parents felt about this important decision and thought about the proposals put forward.

 

  • Consultation Process – in response to a question on how the process was managed, the officer said that all education provisions in Medway were sent the consultation document, with schools relied on to distribute the paperwork. Drop-in sessions were held at the grammar schools which were not very well attended but where people could attend to find out further information and have questions answered.  The majority of respondents were from secondary school parents with some primary and out of borough respondents. The number of respondents was disappointing but there was a wide range of themes in the responses.

 

  • Geographical Range – in response to a comment that geographical range to schools must be factored into decision making, the officer said this was one of the main things being looked into as the only co-education school for some parts of Medway was a considerable distance to children’s homes. The proposal would create a good spread of co-educational establishment and would enable children to attend a local school which they may not have been able to due to lack of availability in their local area and reduce the distance of travel.

 

By changing the arrangements would create a fairer access to schools for Medway pupils. The consultation was about whether to support this as a Council. The schools are academies, and they would conduct their own consultation. This consultation was about the figures and the Cabinet supporting the decision financially.

 

  • Selective Schools - it was commented that there was no formal policy on this kind of process in Medway and there was a need for a policy document within the Council on matters such as this.

 

  • Benefit of Changes - it was asked how this change would benefit Medway pupils when a large proportion of places in Medway grammar schools were from out of borough residents. The officer said that the changes would provide equal number of boys the opportunity and flexibility to attend a Medway school. It may have appeared that this would reduce spaces for girls, but it was confirmed that this was not the case as currently some of the girls’ places were taken up by out of borough girls.

 

  • Parental Choice it was commented that the proposed changes would increase places for boys but diminish spaces for girls, however the officer stated that it  ...  view the full minutes text for item 149.

150.

Children's Services Ofsted Monitoring Visit May 2022 pdf icon PDF 170 KB

This report provides a summary of the findings of the May 2022 Ofsted Monitoring Visit, which had a focus on young people entitled to leaving care services.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion

 

The Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care introduced the report which provided a summary of the findings of the May 2022 Ofsted Monitoring Visit. This was the fourth monitoring visit in the improvement journey and the inspectors found that real progress was being made and that young people and staff felt supported.

 

Members then raised a number of comments and questions, which included:

 

The service was praised for the extensive work completed on the improvement journey to date.

 

  • Areas of focus – in response to a question on what areas would be of focus in order to achieve the next level of an outstanding Ofsted rating, the officer said that a continued drive and focus on priorities as set out in the improvement plan. Maintaining consistency and stability in the workforce which was a challenge, retainment of staff and quality of practice. The Director of People added that achieving an outstanding Ofsted was a long and complicated journey that took time. Kent County Council had been on a 12-year journey to finally achieve their recent outstanding Ofsted rating.

 

  • Children’s Hub – it was commented that not all young people could access the hubs due to the current opening times. The officer said that this was being looked at and there was a plan underway on strengthening and widening participation for young people including addressing issues with the opening hours.

 

  • Mental Health – in response to concerns that young people were not receiving the mental health support and offer they required, and this was an ongoing issue that had to be tackled, the officer agreed that this was an area of priority and focus. All senior staff were working extensively on improving services for young people.

 

  • Learning and Collaboration - it was asked what learning had been gained from Local Authorities (LA) that had achieved outstanding Ofsted status. The Director of People said they learnt from all good and outstanding LA’s. The Regional Adoption Agency was a good example who now had two outstanding LAs was a space where and a lot of sharing and learning took place. Medway had a culture and mission of its own, the children had their own voice and were on a journey which was different and unique. Medway continued to work closely with other LA’s whilst maintaining its own integrity and identity

 

Decision

 

The Committee noted the report

 

151.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 183 KB

This item advises Members of the current work programme and allows the Committee to adjust it in the light of latest priorities, issues and circumstances. It gives Members the opportunity to shape and direct the Committee’s activities over the year.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Democratic Services Officer introduced the report which provided the latest work programme information for the Committee.

 

Following discussions, it was agreed that the School Place Planning report would not be taken as an agenda item but once published as part of the Cabinet agenda, Members would be invited to submit questions to be answered by officers.

 

The Assistant Director Children’s Social Care provided an update on the data workshops and informed Members that the next workshop would take place on 10 August with the theme of the meeting being on workforce recruitment and retention. Going forward, data workshop themes would be aligned with Committee meeting agenda topics.

 

Members were reminded that the final session of the Local Government Association workshop for CYP O&S would take place on 17 August 2022 and were encouraged to sign up for the session.

 

Decision

 

The Committee agreed the work programme as set out in Appendix 1 to the report.