This report sets out the progress made within the areas covered by the Portfolio for Children’s Services (Lead Member), which fall within the remit of this Committee.
Members received an overview of progress on the areas within the terms of reference on this Committee covered by the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services as set out below:
· Children’s Partnership Commissioning (0-25)
· Children’s Provider Services (including Adoption, Fostering, Supported Accommodation and Residential Care)
· Children’s Social Care and Safeguarding Services
· Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (including Mental Health)
· Early Help (including Medway Action for Families, Youth Offending Team (YOT) and Youth Services)
· Early Years
· Safeguarding Children Board (MSCB)
The Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services (Lead Member), Councillor Andrew Mackness, thanked Medway headteachers, teachers and pupils for achieving excellent examination results. He also thanked a number of groups, including the Children in Care Council, Corporate Parenting Board and the Medway Youth Council for their contributions to children’s services and placed on record his thanks to the Director and Deputy Director of Children and Adults and the Children’s team for driving forward children’s services and safeguarding. He then responded to Members' questions and comments as follows:
· Abbey Court – The Portfolio Holder stated that Abbey Court was an outstanding primary and secondary school and that he had visited the school to meet with the children and staff.
In response to questions concerning an insufficiency of places for children at the secondary school and the need to commence Phase 2 of the school’s building programme, the Portfolio Holder advised the Committee that within the capital funds that were available, the Council had invested considerably to build the new school and that it was not his, or the School Place Planning Team’s, understanding that there was an insufficient number of places for children within the secondary school. He added that the Council needed to prioritise funding based on need and that he sat on the Capital Advisory Board which was well informed on projections. However, he undertook to review this with the Leader and Portfolio Holder for Finance on presentation of relevant statistics which demonstrated a need for additional capacity in school places.
With reference to transport assistance for children who were below the statutory school age, the Portfolio Holder explained to Members that the Council had taken a difficult decision not to fund travel assistance for nursery children by default but that special individual cases were assessed. He added that the Council fulfilled its statutory duties.
With regards to a question concerning a decrease in the number of children attending the nursery at Abbey Court, the Portfolio Holder advised the Committee that he was not aware of any cases where a transport appeal had been turned down for children under 5 to attend the nursery. He also advised Members that changes to Early Years funding had given parents more choice of where to send their children. If a case was presented where a child was prevented from receiving their preferred nursery place, he would request officers to review the matter.
· Joint Local Area Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) inspection – With reference to the strengths and weaknesses of the Council outlined within the report on the outcome of the joint local area Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) inspection (item 8 of the agenda refers), a Member asked what could be done to ensure children felt safe within their community. In response, the Portfolio Holder explained to the Committee that this inspection was a joint inspection undertaken by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Ofsted which assessed health and education partners as well as Medway Council. He stated that that the inspection found that children felt looked after and cared for in their education settings, but that the recommendations were welcomed and that a SEND Improvement Board had been established to drive forward an Improvement Action Plan which would be completed in May 2018. The Board would be co-chaired by the Portfolio Holder and Chief Nurse, Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to facilitate joint working.
The Portfolio Holder also advised Members that he sat on the Community Safety Partnership (CSP) which had identified an emergence of organised crime, including knife crime and that the Partnership were working to find solutions to these challenges. He advised Members that the Youth Offending Team (YOT) and the Early Years Team were working with families on early identification of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) to ensure the right plans were in place to steer children away from crime.
· SEND Improvement Board – Further to a question regarding the role and remit of the SEND Improvement Board, the Portfolio Holder advised Members that the Board was established as route of governance for the Improvement Plan that the Council and partners were required to produce following the Joint Local Area SEND inspection. He added that whilst each organisation did have their own plans concerning SEN, the Board would create a joint and clear strategic plan for SEN and ensure that the Plan was delivered. The Board had a monitoring role in this respect.
· EHCPs – The Portfolio Holder noted that Medway was on track to complete all the conversions of statements to Educational, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) by the mandated deadline.
Referring to the outcome of the joint local area SEND inspection, a Member asked the Portfolio Holder to outline specific actions in the Improvement Plan to address the quality of EHCPs. In response, the Portfolio Holder assured Members that the quality of EHCPs would be improved by engaging with young people as their Plans evolve and by involving their families and the professionals who input into EHCPs. He added that he was working with the Leader and Portfolio Holder for Finance and the Chief Executive Officer to address the challenge of funding with strategic leads in Health.
· Exclusions – With reference to Medway’s record of permanent and fixed term exclusions and Medway’s Strategy document, the Portfolio Holder was asked what action had been taken in conjunction with Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) to address exclusions. He advised the Committee that regular meetings were held with the RSC and that he had worked the School Challenge and Improvement Lead (SCILs) Team to ensure a positive and collaborative relationship with the RSC but that the RSC had been challenged. The Portfolio Holder stated that he had provided the Director of Children and Adults Services with examples of how other RSC’s had challenged academies which would be shared with the RSC for Medway.
· Alternative Education Provision – The Portfolio Holder expressed concern that schools tended to revert to exclusion too quickly and he expressed concern over the current system of Pupil Referral Units (PRUs). As a result, he advised Members that he had requested officers to review Medway’s alternative education provision and agreed this would be presented to this Committee at a later date. He placed on record his objection to any PRU primary free school as he believed primary aged children should not be in a PRU.
· Inclusion - The Portfolio Holder also outlined the new facility for children with hearing impairment at Thomas Aveling School, which would ensure children with hearing difficulties remained in the borough in mainstream school, thereby improving inclusion.
· SEN school place commissioning – The Committee was advised that two schools had been challenged through appeal to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), following commissioning of SEN school places which the school had not provided. This challenge resulted in money in the order of £0.5m being returned to the Council. The Portfolio Holder advised Members that a further school would also be challenged on the same grounds.
· Children’s Centres – In response to questions on the new model for Children’s Centres, the Portfolio Holder advised Members that the new provision had been developed by listening to all the feedback from the consultation and that the provision was within budget. He added that work continues to be completed to embed the new system and that feedback so far had been positive.
· Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) – The Portfolio Holder noted that Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) was an emerging challenge and gave assurances to the Committee that the Disabilities Team worked closely with the Adoption Team and would continue to do so. He advised the Committee that the 0-25 Team had moved into the Children’s Services Directorate and would support the transition of service users into adulthood. A Member outlined the difficulties in diagnosing FASD in young children, to which the Portfolio Holder undertook to request a clinician to provide a briefing note to the Committee on the how diagnosis takes place and the associated challenges.
· Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services (ILACS) – Following a question on what preparation was being undertaken in readiness for an inspection, the Portfolio Holder advised the Committee that a specialist had been appointed to support the new inspection regime and a number of measures were being implemented to ensure the Council was ready for an Ofsted inspection, such as a self-assessment and peer review. Members were also advised that the Council was collaborating with other well performing Local Authorities to share good practice. The Portfolio Holder undertook to ask officers to provide all Members with a presentation outlining the new inspection regime outside of the Committee.
· SEN Home to School Transport Policy proposed amendments – A Member expressed concerns about the proposed changes to pick up points within the SEN Home to School Transport Policy (item 10 of the agenda refers). With reference to budget pressures and changing demographics, the Portfolio Holder explained that a decision had not yet been made on the proposals and that the feedback from the consultation would be considered. He advised Members that it was important to review the support provided to children throughout their education to ensure that the needs of children were met in the best possible way to ensure they had the best opportunities and were best equipped for adulthood.
· Parklands – In response to a question concerning the number of bedrooms which could be accommodated at Parklands, the Portfolio Holder advised Members that an architect had reviewed the layout and confirmed that six bedrooms could be accommodated. He added that it was hoped that the Aut Even building would be retained for supported accommodation. A Member welcomed the improvements in the quality and quantity of supported accommodation and the Portfolio Holder undertook to include further information on supported accommodation in future reports.
· Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) – The Portfolio Holder was asked for an update on the Regional Adoption Agency (RAA). He had been advised that government funding would be forthcoming and would likely be in the region of £850,000 shared proportionately between the London Borough of Bexley and Kent County Council. A Member commented that she was pleased with the progress of the RAA and the equal standing of Medway Council within it.
· Serious case review – Asked whether the report on the serious case review would be presented to the Committee, the Portfolio Holder explained that the report on the Medway Secure Training Centre had been delayed. However, he advised Members that the Chairman of the Medway Safeguarding Children’s Board (MSCB) would present the outcome of the report to the Committee. The Portfolio Holder undertook to express the Committee’s request to be presented with the report on the serious case review to the Chairman of the MSCB. The Portfolio Holder placed on record his thanks to the Police Crime Commissioner for his support in the serious case review.
· Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) – A Member expressed concerns in respect of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). The Portfolio Holder advised Members that a new service had been commissioned which should be fully mobilised by April 2018. He shared his concerns regarding communication between the new service leads and the timeliness of the mobilisation and set out that a meeting was scheduled, with the lead officer for the contract to discuss these points. The Portfolio Holder gave assurances to the Committee that the new service would deliver the specification that had been commissioned. This specification included earlier and better intervention, as well as easier access for young people and their families, in well located facilities.
· Achievements of Looked After Children (LAC) – In response to a question on the wider achievements of Looked After Children (LAC), the Portfolio Holder apologised for the omission within the report presented to the Committee and undertook to include the breadth of achievements of LAC in future reports.
· Corporate Parenting – With reference to her experience on the Corporate Parenting Board, a Member commented that children felt valued and excited about the opportunities in Medway. In response the Portfolio Holder stated he took his role as a Corporate Parent very seriously and hoped that young people felt he was accessible.
· Recruitment of adoptive families – In response to questions regarding the challenges and incentives in relation to the recruitment of adoptive families, the Portfolio Holder recognised that more adoptive families and individuals were required, particularly for complex cases including sibling groups and children with health needs. He advised the Committee that the RAA would provide the critical mass to recruit and encourage people to come forward as adopters. He also advised Members that a new staff member would be recruited within the Children and Adults Services Directorate who would be responsible for marketing for adopters and fosterers. The Portfolio Holder also noted that work with adopters and foster carers was ongoing in terms of identifying additional training needs. In addition, with reference to the Corporate Parenting Board, he added that existing adopters and foster carers expressed they felt supported by the Adoption Team.
The Committee thanked the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services (Lead Member) for his attendance and the answers he had provided.