Purpose of the report: Update on: the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Corporate Parenting; the key performance data for year ending March 2021 for Looked After Children as compared with statistical neighbours and nationally; and, any relevant national policy developments, such as Care Review output.
Clare Curran, Cabinet Member for Children and Families
Tina Benjamin, Director – Corporate Parenting
Key points raised in the discussion:
1. A Member asked whether kinship carers were paid at the same rate as general types of carers. The Director explained that the payments were complicated. The payment for the child would be the same, however, the skills payment for the carer was dependent on their experience and therefore it varied.
2. A Member questioned what the target date was for the benchmarking study regarding payments for carers compared to surrounding counties. The Director stated the study would be ready by 18 July 2022. The Corporate Parenting Service had agreed a 3% increase to the child payment to account for the rising cost of living, which would be backdated from 1 April 2022. They wanted any change to be future proofed and any further changes would just be based on inflation. The review was taking longer as the published information of other counties was not always accurate and they wanted to consult with carers. The Member noted that Surrey was an expensive place to live, and the Council was behind surrounding counties even with the child payment. The Director explained that the Council was
competitive with the payment for younger children, but less so for older children.
3. A Member asked how many homeless 16- and 17-year-olds there were in Surrey each month on average. The Director replied that there were six on average.
4. In response to a question on the low rates of adoption in Surrey, the Director explained that low rates were a national trend, however, Surrey’s rates were lower than regional neighbours. It was important to have the right individual care plan for a child and to keep children connected to their families. Adoption rates needed to be looked at in correspondence with special guardianship order outcomes (SGO outcomes). Adoption Southeast performed well at family finding for children and there were not high numbers of placement orders. The Service had improved permanency planning. However, the rates of adoption did dependent on the outcomes of court hearings.
5. A Member asked about the other types of placements and the sufficiency of Surrey foster carers. The Director explained that the sufficiency strategy was a three-year plan, and it was ambitious. Ofsted considered it a robust plan and it would continue to be reviewed annually. There was a refreshed Recruitment and Retention Board which included foster carers, and they were supportive of the measures being taken. However, there was a national shortage of foster carers and post-pandemic, a number of foster carers had retired. The Cabinet Member shared that the Fostering Service had undergone a peer review by Essex County Council who made some recommendations about how the Service could be changed. Although money was still important to foster carers they were unlikely to leave for financial reasons.
6. In response to a question on payment allowances for kinship carers taking on children remedially, the Director explained that if kinship carers came through care proceedings, there was an automatic right to be financially assessed. If the arrangements were made informally, between families, often the Council would be unaware of the arrangement. The Council could financially support any family in the community to keep children out of the care system, including if the family approached the Council, due to Section 17(6) of the Children’s Act 1989. The Council also had a contract to support SGO carers and this would be opened up to any kinship carer.
7. A Member asked about partnership working for mental health and wellbeing services for looked after children and care leavers. The Director explained that there was a dedicated service for this cohort and Ofsted reported that the Service supported children and young people’s wellbeing well. Regarding the issue around the provision of essential information for carers, this was due to both a practice and technical issue. The practice issue was clear, and the technical issue would be resolved by 15 August 2022.
8. The Member also asked about the views of children and young people about the services and engaging with social workers. The Director explained that on an individual level, every child had a review at a minimum of every six months about their care plan, and they were more regular when they first entered the system. There was a 94% completion rate for those reviews. In terms of a wider understanding of the cohort, there was a well-established User Voice and Participation team which included different groups such as, care council for juniors and for seniors. These groups had themed meetings and surveys which corresponded with the themes of the Corporate Parenting Board (CPB) meetings. There was also an annual survey of all looked after children and young people (the Big Survey). Last year, the Service also commissioned the Bright Spots survey which provided nationally comparable data which would be brought to the CPB. The most frequent complaints were around changes in placements and social workers. The relationships between children and young people with social workers varied, often they were easily to build with younger children.
9. A Member raised the issue of a lack of continuity in social workers for children in care. The Director responded that the turnover in looked after care team was much lower than for the family safeguarding team. When children were living at home and it was no longer safe, they stayed in the family safeguarding team during the period of court proceedings. Vacancy rates had decreased for social workers. Regarding placement breakdowns, the Service was working hard to support placements and getting the correct match in the first instance.
10.A Member asked whether there were foster carers in Surrey who looked after children from other counties. The Director explained that there were 1,050 looked after children, 30% of those were UASC. Despite not having a home based in Surrey, they were considered to be children in the care of the Council. Independent fostering agencies had foster carers based in Surrey that could take in children from anywhere.
1. The Select Committee notes the Corporate Parenting Board Annual Report and Performance Report in relation to Looked After Children.
2. The Select Committee are to receive a report next year which will include:
a) any relevant national policy developments that impact
b) the key performance data for year ending March 2022 for Looked After Children as compared with statistical neighbours and nationally.