Agenda item

Meeting Theme: Children's Social Care

At the 2 March 2023 meeting it was proposed and agreed that as a result of work undertaken in partnership with the Local Government Association the Committee adopt a hybrid model moving forward.


This would be based on the assumption that meetings will last no more than three hours, with two hours focused on the theme and the remaining time on general matters that need to be reviewed by the Committee as existing ongoing business. 


Following consultation with the Director of People, Children and Adults’ Services it was agreed that this meeting would be Children’s Social Care Themed with reports covering Inspection of Local Authority Findings (ILACS), Workforce and Sufficiency.




The Director of People and Deputy Chief Executive supported by officers in the directorate introduced the item and gave a detailed presentation on the tabled report.


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


Members congratulated the department on the outcome of the Ofsted inspection and recognised the hard work, effort and dedication by the teams to deliver on the improvement journey to achieve the ‘Good’ rating. The efforts of the previous Portfolio Holder for Childrens Services, the previous Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and Opposition Spokesperson for the Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee were commended as they all worked tirelessly to build on improvement to leadership and partnership.


Recruitment and Workforce – in response to a question on how resilience was being built into the workforce and how to sustain the ‘good’ status, officers said that this rating made working for Medway attractive and the status it afforded the Council should not be underestimated. This was a great opportunity to sell Medway as the place to work for and build a permanent workforce.


It was further asked what apprenticeships were available and officers said that degree apprenticeships were offered and many social workers currently in place had come through that route. The aspiration remained to ‘grow our own’ and many members of the workforce including at senior level had worked their way up through the service.


Agency Staff – the variance in pay for locum staff and permanent staff was queried and officers said that Medway was part of a memorandum where the cost was the same for all agencies, who were held to account on pay for staff across the South East. The offer for permanent staff outweighed the pay for agency staff due to the good staff package in place which included an extensive training and workforce development offer. Lobbying, was however taking place for laws to be brought in to address differences in pay in order to minimise competition and to offer the same terms and conditions for temporary and permanent staff.


Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) – it was asked what the provision received from Central Government for UASC in Medway was and the impact on existing services. The officer said that there were currently approximately 26 children that had been placed out of a possible 63 under the national transfer scheme. There was funding attached to every child but whether it was enough was not yet evident as this was a new scheme for Medway. Taking on additional children always puts pressure on services, but all partners were committed to working tother to provide the best possible outcomes for all children in Medway’s care. The main strain on the budget was when a child became a care leaver as Medway would be solely responsible at that stage for their funding


Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children Funding - in response to a question on how much Medway had to put forward to support these children, the officer said that this was an ever changing picture. There were pressures on the Councils budget with, significant shortfall in funding that was being experienced by all local authorities. The Commissioning Team worked tirelessly to explore different ways to alleviate pressures on the budget whilst ensuring quality of service was not compromised


Adolescence - it was commented that more needed to be done to address the issues with the long term support provided to adolescents in Medway in particular in areas of mental health support. The importance of targeted support in early years to adopt a preventative method to issues that present later in life was highlighted. Officers acknowledged the issues and agreed that intervention was not at the stage that it needed to be. There were several strands of work that were being explored as it was recognised that working with adolescents was challenging and services needed to be tailored to meet their specific needs. This area of improvement remained a priority and one of the aspirations was to have in place, a consistent workforce which was one of the major factors in driving improvement.


Members commented that it was vital that line of sight on improvements to these areas of service be maintained by the Committee and it was suggested and agreed that a report be brought to Committee on the offer for adolescents.


Fostering – in response to questions and comments on what was being done to improve the support that was offered to carers, in particular those caring for children with complex needs, officers said that there remained extensive support for carers, and this was being continuously built on. The feedback from many carers was that they felt generally supported and the service actively explored different ways to build on emotional resilience and support for carers. Foster carers had been recruited specifically to provide respite care for those that were caring for children with disabilities as the need with that cohort was recognised.


In ensuring that children in private fostering arrangements were appropriately taken care of, line of sight was maintained by various agencies. Social workers visited regularly to conduct assessments, and the Commissioning Team also exercised good diligence in their oversight of agencies used.


It was further asked if foster carers that were no longer fostering were being utilised in other areas and officers said that they continued to collaborate with foster carers that had retired or left the service. They were offered other strands of work during their exit interviews such as mentoring and training new carers and being part of recruitment drives.


In response to a question on what was being done to keep sibling groups together, officers said it was challenging to find carers to support siblings, in particular larger groups as the regulations allowed for four children to be cared for together. Any decision to separate children was not taken lightly and all that could be done was, to keep siblings together where possible.


It was commented that it was essential that focus is kept on the areas of children’s services that still required improvement and be transparent on what actions are taken to improve services.  It was suggested and agreed that the action plans for this area of service be shared with the Committee to ensure that progress was being monitored and maintained over time.


Variance in service - officers reassured Members that they were consistently working to tackle instances of variable practice that had been identified across some areas of the service. This was being addressed through maintenance of consistency through permanency in workforce and ensuring that the right people were in post. There was continuous learning from the audits that took place which highlighted quality of practice, areas of improvement, developmental opportunities and acted as a basis for production of action plans to address inconsistencies in practice.  




The Committee agreed:


a)   to note the report


b)   that a report on workforce be presented to the Committee.


c)   that a report on the offer for adolescents be presented at a future meeting of the Committee.


d)    to recommend that the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services write to Central Government to Lobby for more funding to support Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children.