Agenda and draft minutes

Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 29 September 2022 6.30pm

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

Contact: Stephanie Davis, Democratic Services Officer 

Media

Items
No. Item

246.

Apologies for absence

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Carr, Griffin and Thorne.

 

Apologies for absence were also received from Georgina Bentaleb and Victora Aspin.

247.

Record of meeting pdf icon PDF 356 KB

To approve the record of the meeting held on 28 July 2022.

Minutes:

The record of the meeting held on 28 July 2022 was agreed and signed as correct by the Chairman.

248.

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:

There were none.

249.

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

 

Councillor Cooper disclosed and interest on agenda items 6 and 10 as she is a Governor at Rivermead School

 

Councillor Kemp disclosed an interest on agenda item 6 as he is a Governor at Abbey Court School.

 

Councillor Mrs Elizabeth Turpin disclosed an interest in agenda items 6 and 7 as she has a child with SEND .

 

250.

Complaints and Compliments Annual Report 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022 pdf icon PDF 510 KB

The annual report provides information on children’s services complaints handled during 2021–2022, and includes the numbers received and the types of issues raised. The report also highlights some examples of the many positive things people have said about the provision of children’s services in Medway over the same period, and the service improvements Medway Council has made as a result.

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

The Complaints Manager for Social Care introduced the report which provided information on children’s services complaints handled during 2021–2022. The report also highlighted the positive comments received on provision of children’s services and improvements made by Medway Council.

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

 

The report was commended for being comprehensive and the addition of the compliments section was welcomed, as it was encouraging to see the comments made by the public on the work of the departments, special guardians and foster carers.

 

Complaints Process – in response to comments that the complaints process would benefit from a review as more flexibility was needed in dealing with each case, as not all complaints were necessarily complaints, officers said that the procedure was a statutory process that was based on the regulation of the Children’s Act that was developed in 2006 including the timeline. It was agreed that a degree of flexibility would be beneficial in certain cases and the ability to resolve in a timely manner. Managers were proactively resolving issues before they went through a formal complaints stage.

 

The Director of People added that managers and senior leadership were expected to acknowledge receipt of complaints immediately and ensure that complaints were resolved as quickly as possible. There was currently 100% completion rate within children’s services.  

 

Increase in Upheld Complaints – it was noted that the number of complaints fully or partially upheld had increased and it was asked what the reasons behind this was. Officers said that managers were attempting to solve complaints and concerns before reaching a formal stage. In the past, complaints could have been resolved without going through a formal process and this had been recognised by managers who were communicating with service users and resolve issues where possible. Formal complaints received were likely to be upheld and likely to have gone through an ombudsman process.

 

Lessons Learnt - it was asked how lessons learnt from complaints as well as compliments were fed back to staff. Officers said that reports were sent to the Quality Assurance team who were able to triangulate and provide information to Heads of Service who were expected to hold discussions with staff. It was hoped that in the near future, workshops could be resumed where social workers could come together to share practice and learn from each other.

 

The Director of People added that staff newsletters were utilised as a means to highlight practice issues which was vital in an environment with high staff turnover. It was also used to regularly feedback compliments received.

 

Decision:

 

The Committee noted the report.

 

251.

Joint Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Strategy 2022-25 pdf icon PDF 220 KB

This paper sets out the draft updated Joint Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Strategy which includes the vision, guiding principles and the key areas of development that will be Medway’s focus for children and young people with SEND over the coming three years.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

The Assistant Director, Education and SEND introduced the report which set out the draft updated Joint Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Strategy which included the vision, guiding principles and the key areas of development that will be Medway’s focus for children and young people with SEND over the coming three years.

 

Members were informed that the consultation closed on 23 September 2022 and the information gathered would be incorporated to the final Strategy Action Plan where appropriate.

 

120 responses were received with 280 individual comments. The three key things highlighted by respondents were the need for increased effective communication between agencies, parents, and carers, streamlining of pathway processes and ensuring the voice of the child, parents and carers were central to decision making.

 

Members commented that the Strategy was robust but questioned deliverability and what was in place to mitigate issues. The Assistant Director of Education and SEND said that there was a deliverability plan that had been developed and would be shared once finalised.

 

Transitions - in response to a question on distinct issues on the transition pathway from children to adults’ service and what could be done to improve experiences and outcomes, the Officer acknowledged the issues and said that this was an area of continued focus. Specialised work had commenced on joining up the children and adults service in order to improve pathways.

 

Inclusion and Participation - it was commented that in order to achieve best outcomes through inclusion and participation, it was important to emphasise to third party organisations that their provision must be non-discriminatory. The officer agreed and said that this was a joint strategy that focused on changing culture in Medway and as such it was important to get the message across on promotion of inclusivity.

 

Communication – in response to a question on what was being done to improve communication between services and families, the officer said that improvement was needed in clearness of communication to families. Work was being done to streamline processes, make them more effective and improve confidence in the system by being clear on eligibility and legislation.

 

Flexibility – it was asked what opportunities there were for flexibility in response to individual circumstances. The Officer said that SEND was a regulatory arena that was restricted by several factors such as budgets, provision, parental choice, all these factors impact flexibility in the service.

 

EHCP Applications – it was questioned why a high number of EHCP

applications were rejected. The officer acknowledged that a high number were refused, this was due to applications received from parents that had not received any input from education providers and were not aware of processes and eligibility. This had been recognised and work was being undertaken to support parents on how and when to approach for support.

 

Abbey Court – in response to comments regarding the issues with children not being able to attend school every day and the pressure that put on families, the Officer acknowledged the issues at Abbey Court. Members  ...  view the full minutes text for item 251.

252.

Update on the Safety Valve Intervention Programme pdf icon PDF 453 KB

This report will outline the plans to be submitted to the Department for Education (DfE) to recover the Council’s budget deficit on the High Needs Block (HNB). These plans will be submitted to the DfE with a request for £28m investment as part of the Safety Valve Intervention Programme (SVIP), to support the delivery of these plans.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Decision:

 

Following discussions with the Chair, Vice Chair and Opposition Spokesperson it was suggested that this item be deferred to a future meeting to allow for accurate information to be presented to the Committee.

 

The Committee agreed for this item to be deferred.

253.

Workforce Recruitment and Retention pdf icon PDF 407 KB

Social work recruitment and retention remains the priority for Children’s Services. This paper provides an update on recruitment and retention and sets out the challenges currently facing Medway.

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

The Chief Organisational Culture Officer introduced the report which provided an update on recruitment and retention and set out the challenges facing Medway, and set out the national context.

 

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

 

Overseas Recruitment Programme - it was asked whether the Council continued its overseas recruitment programme and what percentage of social workers were retained. The Officer said that 80% of the staff recruited were retained and whilst the programme had been successful, there has been many associated challenges. At this time this was not being looked at as an option to stabilise the workforce.

 

It was commented that a stable workforce was crucial to the improvement journey and it was worrying that the situation, which was not limited to Medway was deteriorating.

 

National Representation - it was asked what has been done to reinforce the situation to Central Government and what was being done by Medway MP’s. The Director of People said that this was a historical workforce issue that was recognised nationally. The Association of Children’s Services was lobbying Government on this matter on a regular basis. The issues had been a matter of priority for Medway MP’s in particular as a result of the Improvement Journey but focus had drifted recently in light of other significant National issues.

 

The Memorandum of Cooperation for Agency staff to manage the associated costs with agency worker supply and demand had been useful in sending the message to the market that all Local Authorities (LA) were to operate in the same way. There had, however, been a small number of breeches, but the majority of LA’s adhered to the terms.

 

Recruitment Options – in response to a question on what other options were being looked into to recruit staff, the Officer said that the focus was on Medway investing in its own. The Council had a successful apprenticeship academy and would be expanding on its pathways.

 

It was further asked if the targeted recruitment campaign that was planned would only use the Guardian Recruitment, the Officer said that the Guardian had not been used by Medway for some time and the thinking behind its use at this time was the ability to target a wider catchment, particularly given that  there was more flexibility on locations and days required to attend the office with our new ways of working.

 

Best Value – in response to a question on what was being done to achieve best value and saving money by not always using consultants. The Director of People said that very little work was done by consultants due to the high cost. Consultants were only used where needed as part of a particular project as part of the improvement journey. Funds were mainly used for recruitment and retention of permanent staff.

 

Staff Morale – it was asked what creative measures were used to improve staff morale. The Officer said that the staff reference group and Medway Makers were useful tools in teasing out  ...  view the full minutes text for item 253.

254.

Council Plan Performance Monitoring & Risk Register Review Quarter 1 2022/23 pdf icon PDF 225 KB

Medway’s Council Plan 2022/23 sets out the Council’s three priorities. This report and appendices summarise how we performed in Q1 2022/23 on the delivery of the programmes and measures which fall under the remit of this committee which are: People and Growth (Appendix 1). This report also presents the Q1 2022/23 review of strategic risks (Appendix 2).

 

Following feedback from CMT, Cabinet and Overview and Scrutiny Committees, the format of the report has been improved. The new style report shows performance of each programme. It includes the achievements for the programme and the actions being taken to improve performance.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

The Director of People – Children and Adult Services introduced the report and with the support of other members of the Directorate Management Team, gave updates relating to the indicators flagged as red within the report.

 

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

 

Breast feeding – in response to comments that the inability to breastfeed was a sensitive issue and appropriate support was needed to enable mothers to continue with breastfeeding post birth, officers confirmed that the breastfeeding programme was appropriately sensitive. There was additional support in the community available once mothers had left the hospital setting, the challenge was communicating the availability of additional support and this was an area of ongoing work.

 

Medway Can Campaign – the launch of the Medway Can campaign was praised, and it was asked if a full detailed valuation of the programme would be received. Officers confirmed that the evaluation of the campaign to encourage people of Medway to live healthier active lifestyles would be shared at a future meeting

 

Not In Employment Education or Training (NEET) – in response to a question on whether the data that had been received by the Committee in the past was incorrect, officers conformed that the not known data presented was correct and a full report would be represented at the 29 November 2022 meeting where detailed discussions could take place.

 

Decision:

 

The Committee noted the report.

 

255.

Petition pdf icon PDF 196 KB

This report advises the Committee of a petition received by the Council which falls within the remit of this Committee including a summary of the response sent to the petition organiser by officers.

 

Minutes:

Discussion:

 

Members considered a report which advised the Committee of a petition received by the Council which fell within the remit of the Committee, including a summary of the response sent to the petition organisers by officers.

 

The lead petitioner was invited to speak to explain why the petition had been referred to the Committee and made the following points:

 

  • An electronic vote was run, and an additional 909 votes were gathered in support of the petition

 

  • The number of children eligible for Free School Meals had risen from 6000 to 11000 since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

 

  • Low-income households continue to be impacted by the rise of national inflation at 10%, rising energy costs, 11 million people behind on their bills and 15 million people using credit as a means to pay for essentials.

 

  • Many families were at a loss as to how they would manage over the school summer holidays without the Free School Meals (FSM) voucher scheme.

 

  • There had been an absence of information on the decision that the FSM Vouchers would cease and would no longer be issued. When officers were questioned at the June Committee meeting, they said that the voucher scheme would continue.

 

  • The system where families received FSM vouchers automatically had been replaced with an application for Household Support Fund (HSF), access to which was a confusing and bureaucratic process.

 

  • 11,000 children in Medway were eligible for FSM and only 774 benefitted from the HSF over the summer period.

 

  • £350k of unused funds had been returned to Central Government.

 

  • The HSF, how to apply and eligibility criteria had not been adequately publicised by the Council.

 

  • A significant number of Local Authorities continued to fund the vouchers over the school holiday period for eligible families.

 

  • A political decision had been made by the Council not to fund FSM holiday voucher and this must be looked at from the perspective of families of Medway who relied on the vouchers

 

In discussing the petition, the following responses were made to comments from Members:

 

Rising costs - the challenges in rising costs was recognised and whilst the voucher scheme was beneficial for families during the school holiday period, there was a need for a more sustainable way forward to support families that was not just focused on school holiday periods.

 

Communication - on 5 May 2022, the announcement was made by Central Government that the FSM holiday voucher scheme would be ending and this was subsequently communicated to schools that it would not be continued by the Council but it was acknowledged that this may not have been done with adequate notice for families to prepare and lessons had been learnt which officers undertook to address in future decisions.

 

Misinformation – in response to a request for an apology due to the misinformation provided,  it was explained that officers had provided information based on their understanding of what had occurred at the time, the information given was real time information which did change as things progressed.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 255.

256.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 188 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:

Discussion:

 

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

 

Following discussion, it was agreed that an item on Post 16 review be added to the work programme for January/February 2023.

 

Decision:

 

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