Purpose of the Report:
To provide an update on the improvement of Surrey’s children’s services and the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the improvement programme. This report provides further information on the services and activity outlined in the last report to the Select Committee on 21 January 2020.
Mary Lewis, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families
Jacquie Burke, Director – Family Resilience and Safeguarding
Key points raised during the discussion:
1. The Director informed Members that the Service’s annual conversation with Ofsted had taken place since the previous meeting of the Select Committee. Ofsted had been assured by the council’s progress during the COVID-19 pandemic and the approach taken in children’s social care to meet the needs of the county’s vulnerable children. Members heard that assurance visits and targeted visits would resume in September 2020, albeit they were likely to be conducted virtually. Full ILACS (inspection of local authority children’s services) visits would not be resumed until March 2021.
2. A Member asked whether there had been an increase in missing children cases during the COVID-19 pandemic and what the council did to locate missing children. The Director informed the Committee that there had been a reduction in the number of these cases during the pandemic. There were tight procedures in place for locating a missing child and for return to home interviews. The timeliness of the latter had greatly improved over the previous 12 months. The Service works with the Police – who were responsible for searching missing children – the missing child’s family and all agencies known to the child to locate them. Where necessary, with Police agreement, the council publicised missing children.
3. The Chairman agreed to circulate the figures relating to missing children from the Surrey Children's Services Improvement Board Performance Compendium to the Committee. The Cabinet Member notified Members that missing looked-after children was a standing item at every Corporate Parenting Board meeting; adding that a missing incident for a looked-after child could be an event as minor as returning late from a social activity, and this should be considered when examining data relating to missing children.
4. A Member referred to compliance rates for audit requests, questioning how instances of non-compliance were monitored and followed up on. The Director responded that, whilst compliance had improved over time and the Service was committed to achieving full compliance, there would always be occasions where people were unable to complete audits and, occasionally, furlough will be granted in this respect. Earlier in the year, the challenge to recruit permanent social workers meant existing staff carrying out audits had to undertake additional operational tasks. There had been a significant, positive response at team-practitioner level to providing management oversight for 6,000 open files at the outbreak of COVID-19 in England. A dip sample of 10% of those case notes by the quality assurance team returned an agreement rate of 91% on risk management.
5. A Member asked how the Service had been providing training on the analysis of motivational interviewing and the identification of what good supervision looks like. The Director replied that a number of catch-up training sessions had been arranged for practitioners who had already undertaken two-days of training on the technique and that a commitment had been made to ensuring that the whole service undertook the training and used it in practice. Owing to turnover of front-line staff, additional two-day training courses had been commissioned for new starters. Group supervision where team managers were encouraged to challenge practitioners over the use of motivational interviewing had increased. All families open to the family safeguarding team received a parenting assessment and motivational interviewing, the related supervision of this was around motivational practice. The Director commented that the improvement of the inconsistent culture and mindset around practice was a continual, iterative process, which was a focus for the Service.
6. A Member requested that officers quantify information in future select committee reports, where possible.
7. A Member noted that 20% of cases audited were deemed ‘inadequate’ and questioned when 100% of cases would be handled adequately by the Service. The Director responded, whilst the Service was never satisfied with an inadequate judgement, it was unlikely that any authority would never have an inadequate assessment. Nevertheless, the Service would continue to aim to reduce the percentage of inadequate audits. The Cabinet Member stated that a review of inadequate cases had been carried out, which had identified that the most significant factor driving inadequacy was changes in social workers and team managers; the greatest threat to improvement was recruitment of permanent staff. The Cabinet Member concluded that virtual visits during COVID-19 would not have led to good and outstanding practice and hoped adequacy would increase with the recommencing of face-to-face social work visits.
8. A Member referred to measures of success and asked whether the Service was on target to meet these targets. The Director stated that success was tracked using a number of KPIs (key performance indicators) and a comprehensive evaluation of the Service’s use of the family safeguarding model was about to commence. A Department for Education grant had been received to support the implementation of the family safeguarding model, which aims to reduce repeat referrals. A significant reduction in the number of child protection plans and referrals to children’s social care had been achieved but these numbers had risen again during the pandemic, with a doubling in the number of open children’s social care assessments compared on the relevant period in 2019. Analysis had been undertaken to ascertain how this increased demand would be met. Quantitative measures and KPIs are tracked monthly and the Director offered to retrospectively share the KPIs with the Committee.
9. A Member referred to the failures in the previous Ofsted inspection around 16- and 17-year olds in care and asked how many in this age group were currently residing in unsuitable accommodation. The Director explained that there was a reasonably high spend to provide this age group with accommodation that met their needs. Finding suitable accommodation for adolescents was a national challenge and had become increasingly difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.
10. A Member asked how many of the 16- and 17-year olds residing in supported accommodation outside of Surrey and were receiving education. The Director offered to circulate this information to the Committee.
11. A Member noted the monthly case audit programme and questioned why 29% of overall judgement grades in the North East Quadrant were inadequate, as this was significantly higher than the other quadrants. The Member asked why this continued and what was being done to reduce the percentage of inadequate ratings. The Director stated that, in fact, the monthly performance data showed that the North East was outperforming the other three quadrants in other areas and it had greatly improved its compliance in timeliness. A newly appointed assistant director in the North East Quadrant had previously worked for Hampshire County Council, which was an outstanding local authority. Extensive quality assurance work was being undertaken, the findings of which informed training. The Director highlighted the North East Quadrant’s culture of rewarding staff for good work and was confident that the right leadership was in place.
12. A Member asked what feedback had been received from residents and service users about children’s services during the improvement programme. The Director explained that as part of the evaluation of family safeguarding, a large qualitative study of family experience had been commissioned. Complaints received often relates to what was agreed in a meeting, incongruences between what the Service offered families what families believed they needed, and report timeliness before child protection conferences. Such complaints were used to inform performance measures. Whilst the Service, did not routinely ask families for feedback, apprentices spoke to service users about their experiences during COVID-19 pandemic. The feedback received was largely positive; it was reported that child protection conferences had been made easier by remote technology and the Service was consequently considering a hybrid model for future use, where appropriate.
13. A Member asked how recruitment to the Service was progressing. The Director described recruitment as the Service’s biggest challenge. The Council had been in partnership with Community Care for the previous 12 months and embarked on a recruitment drive during the previous 6 months. Twenty-two, 9, 30 and 15 practitioners had been appointed in the North East, South West, North West and South East Quadrants, respectively; and 7, 12, 10 and 18 full-time vacancies remained open, respectively. Some newly recruited staff lived overseas so there had been a delay in them starting their roles due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty newly qualified social workers were to join the Service.
14. A Member asked for an update on the situation regarding unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The Director informed the Committee that a newly established specialist team was dedicated to working with this cohort and expressed confidence in practice improvement around this. There had not been a rise in cases and numbers sat below the Department for Education threshold.
i. For the Chairman to circulate the missing children statistics in the Surrey Children’s Improvement Board Performance Compendium to Members of the Select Committee.
ii. For the Director – Family Resilience and Safeguarding to circulate information regarding the number of 16- and 17- year olds residing in supported accommodation outside of Surrey; and how many of this cohort receive education, to Members of the Select Committee.
i. That, at the 21 September 2020 meeting of the Select Committee, the Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families provide an update on the children’s improvement programme, including future audit findings, updates on the implementation of the recommendations of the audit programmes, and the outcome of any Ofsted monitoring.