Each year we produce a Sufficiency Report in October/November which provides a comprehensive review of the support and care provided to children in care (CIC) and care leavers (CL), with reference to data which is made available at the end of September. Last year there was agreement to turn this annual report into a five year Strategy and this work has begun.
This report marks an interim year as we mobilise and embed initiatives needed as a matter of urgency to address the pressures created by the highest number of children in care Medway has seen. The work being undertaken will set the benchmark for the five year improvement plan and this report sets out our high level outcomes for the service. It outlines the early indications of the challenges and trends affecting our CIC and CL, sets out our priorities to address those challenges and recommends our proposed programmes of work to deliver on those priorities.
The Head of Partnership Commissioning, Resources and Youth Justice introduced the report which detailed the outline sufficiency strategy 2020-25, providing a comprehensive review of the support and care provided to children in care and care leavers and how Medway could meet the demand and improve outcomes for children and young people.
Members then raised a number of questions and comments, which included:
· Balance of cost against outcomes – comment was made that there was too much emphasis on reducing costs, which was understood and recognised as an important factor but needed to be balanced against improved outcomes for children and young people. Officers confirmed that achieving the best outcomes for children and young people was paramount.
· Retention in foster carers – concern was raised about the retention of foster carers and how this was being addressed. Officers confirmed that the whole package for foster carers in terms of pay, benefits, training, development and support was being reviewed to address this issue.
· Residential and out of area placements – Officers confirmed that Medway residential provision was always a last resort for children as they were best placed within a family setting. Equally, senior officers met regularly to monitor and review Medway children in high cost out of area placements.
· Repeat removals project – in response to a request for more information, officers explained that addressing repeat removals was a key focus for Medway and that Medway was looking at developing a team around the person approach. Officers wanted to put a comprehensive programme together and had identified three cohorts of women that this would target; those at risk of having multiple children taken away (for example because of a presence of substance mis-use, domestic abuse, history of trauma), those pregnant women currently in the social care process and at risk of having their unborn baby removed and those that have had their baby removed. It was highlighted that there would need to be a strong mental health support element to this programme, with bespoke therapeutic work for these women. The projected savings for the project, set out at figure 34 of the report, were queried, particularly in relation to the reduction in cost of the project in years 3 and 4, and how additional families would be supported in these years, given the reduced figure. Officers explained that recommissioning of services within years 1 and 2 of the project would enable the support to be embedded within new contracts to reduce the project cost, plus taking into account savings of children that would otherwise have been taken into care.
· Strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ) – concern was raised in relation to the SDQ results which demonstrated Medway had a higher than average cohort of children in care who have SDQ scores which are “a cause for concern”. Officers confirmed this was an area of focus and extra analysis was being undertaken to see if there had been improvement when comparing the data with the previous year.
· Responsibility for Special Guardianship Order – in response to a question about why the Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) does not cover Special Guardianship Order placements, officers confirmed that it was felt that the RAA needed time to fully establish itself and in addition, there was a recognition that work relating to SGO placements were often locally based.
· Fostering to adopt – concern was raised about fostering to adopt which it was felt put a lot of pressure on foster carers. Officers understood the concerns but explained that permanency for the child/children was always the key focus.
· Placements for difficult to place children – reference was made to the more difficult to place children, such as larger sibling groups, older children and those with complex needs, which often were placed with Independent Fostering Agencies. Officers explained that for larger families this reflected national picture of few foster carers being willing to take large sibling groups and there was always a determination to place sibling groups together when safe to do so.
· Impact of Copvid-19 – officers confirmed that there had been some real challenges because of the pandemic, particularly for placements of children with complex need. Breakdowns had however been minimal and this was continuing to be monitored carefully to ensure families and children were supported where needed.
· Reduction in Early Help cases – concern was raised in regard to the fall in families receiving early help support, as detailed at figure 35 of the report, which demonstrated a 50% reduction between August 2019 and August 2020. Officers explained that this was determined by the threshold and for some families it would have been because they met a different threshold of support that was required. With a renewed look at cases and threshold some of the decline would have been due to a clean up of Early Help figures.
The Committee noted the report and recommended it to the Cabinet for approval.
In accordance with Council rule 12.6, Councillors Cooper, Johnson and Chrissy Stamp requested that their votes in favour be recorded.