Agenda item


To review the current short breaks offer and the practice and performance, priorities, and improvement progress of the Children with Disabilities Service since its 2021 review.



Sinead Mooney, Cabinet Member for Children and Families

Rachael Wardell, Executive Director – Children, Families & Learning

Jenny Brickell, Assistant Director – Children with Disabilities

Eamonn Gilbert, Assistant Director – Commissioning

Chris Tisdall, Service Manager, Commissioning – Corporate Parenting

Kate Goode, Family Voice Surrey Participation Manager


Key points made in the discussion – Children with Disabilities:

1.    Mandatory additional safeguarding training for social workers in the children with disabilities service was introduced following Ofsted’s 2021 visit, after the service took over case management responsibility for safeguarding cases, which previously had been transferred to family safeguarding teams. A Member asked how their understanding of safeguarding issues was being checked. The Assistant Director for Children with Disabilities said training had a safeguarding focus every three months, and one month ago a quarterly report to management from the Academy was introduced to check social workers’ attendance at training, including agency staff. She informed the Committee the internal audit of the whole service in February 2023 did not identify any safeguarding concerns. A second audit was to be carried out later in 2023.


2.    A Member asked how often children placed in specialist independent schools around the country were visited by Surrey staff. The Assistant Director for Children with Disabilities clarified the statutory requirement is for the child to be visited within the first week of a new placement, then at least once every six weeks, reduced to every three months if the placement is made permanent. Compliance was monitored monthly.


3.    Regarding the 2023 dip sample, the Assistant Director for Children with Disabilities was asked what was being done to address the fact most of the child and family assessments were out-of-date. It was being considered whether these yearly assessments were proportionate and necessary in addition to the statutory child in need visits. A Member queried why in most of the audits there was no consent for information sharing. The Assistant Director said it was mainly due to the consent obtained not being evidenced, and parents understood information needed to be shared with schools and health partners. In order to improve the quality of reports, an exemplar assessment had been developed and shown to staff in practice improvement sessions.


4.    Regarding timeliness of child in need visits, 87% of children were currently being seen within timescale, compared with 77% when Ofsted expressed concern in their January 2022 visit.


5.    A Member asked if once a child had been classified as having lower needs and placed accordingly, there were subsequent reviews to check if their needs had changed. The Assistant Director for Children with Disabilities clarified a review took place every six months by a team that included an advanced social worker. Although this was an issue identified in the Ofsted report of March 2021, it was now an area of strong performance within a stable team.


6.    A Member asked what had been done since the January 2022 Ofsted inspection to ensure a child’s wider needs are met, not just those relating to their disability. The Assistant Director for Children with Disabilities said there was a focus on what the child can do and they recognised the importance of thinking about the child in the round.


7.    The Family Voice Surrey Participation Manager acknowledged there had been improvement in the Service. She said they would like to be involved in how assessment training is put together and stressed the importance of viewing the child as a whole and looking positively at their abilities.


8.    The Executive Director said they did not anticipate having a 100% fully staffed permanent workforce and were aiming for 85% permanent, 10% agency and 5% vacancies as a realistic goal by the time of the next full Ofsted inspection, expected early 2025. Within the CWD Service, the proportion of permanent social workers had increased to 77%, from 50% in March 2021.


Key points made in the discussion – Short Breaks


9.    A Member asked why the short breaks budget had not been increased in 2023/24 despite a rise in inflation and demand. The Assistant Director for Commissioning emphasised the difficult economic climate and said it had been challenging to retain the same budget. A Member pointed out that although the budget remained stable it represented a real-term reduction in what could be delivered and suggested this could have been made more explicit. The Cabinet Member for Children and Families said she would listen to the feedback and any shortage of supply would be taken into account when setting future budgets.


10.The Chairman noted this funding, to pilot new initiatives, did not plug the deficit in play and leisure provision. A Member worried this would raise expectations and then be withdrawn. Asked if the £900,000 from the Short Breaks Innovation Fund would be repeated, the Service Manager for Commissioning confirmed it was for one year initially and the prospect of continuity was in discussion with the Department for Education (DfE). The Assistant Director for Commissioning observed the fund was for innovation and the idea was to bring it into the mainstream if the pilot was successful.


11.The Family Voice Surrey Participation Manager noted the importance of short breaks to the short and long-term wellbeing of families including siblings. The respite holds families together and the breaks allows the child to flourish, but only with regular access. Parents were expressing frustration at having services cut, sometimes on the day, and newly eligible families were on long waiting lists and did not believe it was being given the importance it warrants. The Chairman added that this echoed what councillors were being told.


12.Asked for the supply and demand ratio, the Assistant Director for Commissioning explained that, historically, providers had managed their own waiting lists, but steps were being taken to give the Commissioners a better idea of demand. The Member expressed concern at the gap in information where services are commissioned. The Service Manager informed they were currently surveying providers on waiting list levels.


13.A Member asked if tendering could be made less bureaucratic as some providers had been discouraged from applying, particularly smaller charities who were asked for a great deal of information for very small sums. The Service Manager welcomed detail on providers’ specific issues so they could be followed up directly. He explained the new way of commissioning involved the Dynamic Purchasing System that had a light touch process for changes once due diligence had been done. The Assistant Director for Commissioning noted a need to reflect on the procedure for smaller awards though they did have to go through a competitive process.


Actions/requests for further information:

1.    Service Manager, Commissioning – Corporate Parenting to answer if supply is meeting demand across the various Short Breaks services (overnight, play and leisure etc.), based on waiting list levels for both those services provided in-house and those commissioned once providers have responded to survey w/c 12/06/23.


2.    Service Manager, Commissioning – Corporate Parenting to provide a breakdown of what short breaks the Council’s core budget is providing versus what the DfE innovation funding is buying.


3.    Cabinet Member for Children and Families to provide to Select Committee a clear timeline of what will be done to mitigate the impact of the reduction in play and youth activities this year, before the 2024/25 budget is set and before the 20 July Committee meeting.



Children with Disabilities (CWD)

The Children, Families, Lifelong Learning and Culture Select Committee recommends that:

1.    When a dip sample audit report is employed as a tool to monitor performance, the recommendations should adhere to SMART criteria, and any subsequent report to Select Committee should document progress against these SMART recommendations.

2.    The CWD Service continues to drive for improvements in the quality and consistency of assessments, as highlighted in the dip sample audit report.

3.    As a result of the introduction of mandatory safeguarding training in the CWD Service, social workers should have their understanding of safeguarding issues checked annually. Should there be any further change to roles, all staff should be trained appropriately before this takes effect.

Short Breaks

The Children, Families, Lifelong Learning and Culture Select Committee recommends that:

1.    The Cabinet Member for Children and Families prioritises the restoration of funding for community-based play and youth schemes for children with disabilities to enable the FY 2022/23 capacity to be restored in FY 2024/25, given the widespread feedback that this change has been detrimental to the mental health of parents, carers, children and young people, as well as adversely impacting the Council’s prevention strategy.


2.    There is a determined focus on clear and timely communication both internally within Children’s Services, and with parents and providers. This includes ensuring that, prior to any change in policy or process taking effect, the appropriate information is published on the Council’s website and all parents using the services are informed of the change.


3.    The short breaks commissioning/procurement process is reviewed to ensure that it is not overly onerous and does not deter smaller organisations from applying. As part of this review, Surrey Youth Focus should be asked to meet with providers (existing and those who have withdrawn) and to feedback anonymously to the Service.


4.    The Cabinet Member for Children and Families responds to the findings of Family Voice Surrey’s current survey on short breaks and communicates this response to the Select Committee, within one month of receipt.


5.    Whilst additional government funding is very desirable, funding for pilots that may not deliver the outcomes desired, or for activities that are not financially sustainable without continued funding from the same source, should be carefully assessed. Where such pilots are introduced, the circumstances should be clearly identified in order to avoid setting expectations that cannot be realised in the longer term.


Supporting documents: