Agenda item

Children's Services Improvement Plan

To provide an update on progress against the children’s services improvement plan.


Darryl Freeman (Corporate Director for Children and Young People) gave a brief introduction to the Children’s Services Improvement Plan. The principal points included:


  1. The Improvement Plan follows the inspection by Ofsted last summer where Children’s Services in Herefordshire were rated as inadequate.
  2. Thereafter, a statutory direction followed in addition to the appointment of a children’s commissioner.
  3. The improvement plan was agreed by Children’s Scrutiny and Cabinet in December 2022 and was submitted to Ofsted.
  4. Progress against the improvement plan is primarily monitored by the improvement board as there is no governance role for the Health and Wellbeing Board, however, some of the elements of the improvement plan have connections to the wider Health and Wellbeing Board agenda.
  5. The improvement board meets six-weekly and an update will be provided in addition to a thematic review which covers looked-after children.
  6. Progress is also monitored by Ofsted and they have commenced a programme of monitoring visits, the first of which was in March 2023 and the feedback report was published in June 2023.
  7. In the first monitoring visit, the focus was on the front door multi-agency response to risk in which good feedback was received by Ofsted with regard to progress that had been regarding the multi-agency response and the multi-agency safeguarding hub.
  8. Within the same report, there’s also a reminder that there is much more to do to improve the consistency of the quality of the practice, particularly of the quality of assessments in that particular visit.
  9. Ofsted were returning later this week to focus on child protection.
  10. The visits from Ofsted will form a regular pattern for the next couple of years.
  11. Children’s Services have been in decline for many years and improvement to a standard of ‘good or more’ will not happen overnight. Rather this will be a 2-3 year improvement plan activity.
  12. The general direction of travel continues to be positive and the vast majority of activities are on track and the impact of the activity are now being measured. A lot of work is being done to change systems and processes, including IT systems, and it takes time to see the impact of that and the difference it makes with children and young people.
  13. Gail Hancock (Service Director Improvement) and her team have started to provide some impact measures for the future.
  14. Recruitment remains the single greatest challenge and to recruit experienced social workers is a particular challenge in Herefordshire.


The Corporate Director for Children and Young People then invited questions and comments from members of the board.


Jane Ives asked the Corporate Director how much the current rating of the service as ‘inadequate’ is impacting on the ability to recruit


The Corporate Director answered that the two are inextricably linked and that the competitiveness of Herefordshire’s offer including quality of supervision, stability of leadership and management will help make a difference.


The Director of Public Health noted that the link to the Health and Wellbeing Strategy and in particular, the ‘Best Start in Life’ provides an opportunity to bring together a lot of prevention and early intervention work to help support this agenda.


The Chair asked about foster carer recruitment and sometimes foster carers leave as local authority foster carers to become agency foster carers, and whether they are asked if the decisions as to why they do is mainly financial related.


The Corporate Director responded that exit interviews are carried out in order to better understand why local authority foster carers have left their positions, but noted that there was not a lot of movement with a mostly stable set of foster carers in place. 


The Chair also asked about health related priorities and that not necessarily the health history of the child is up-to-date and wondered whether that followed with the life story books that social workers provided and whether there is a similar lack in that area too.


The Corporate Director noted that health history relates to children who have been in and left care and accessing those children’s health histories is difficult.


Gail Hancock (Service Director Improvement) also noted that the link is made because there is some direct work with children and young people so the practice principle is that life story work should happen very organically throughout the child’s life. With respect to care histories, there is expectation for children to be supported to understand the relative issues about their health and wellbeing during their time in care but specifically health histories relate to what a child who has been in Herefordshire’s care has when leaving that care and becoming a young adult and independent.


The Chair also asked about NEETs and that it appears to be a clear issue and within this local authority, it has been an issue for a long time. How many of the partner agencies offer, or we approach to offer work experience, apprenticeships, or job interviews for care leavers?


The Corporate Director answered that NEET is not in education or training and that figures for Herefordshire are comparable to the national figures. The overall figure is skewed by young people/care leavers who may be unwell, for example, along with other reasons why they would not be in education, employment or training. There are also a group of young people who may choose to not be in touch with the local authority. Therefore, while there is likely to be an under-report, it is unlikely to be a significant under-reporting of the figures. The Corporate Director also noted that conversations are being held with colleagues and a wide-range of agencies and are looking at contracts as well as developing apprenticeships in children’s services for care leavers.


The Chair asked whether figures for the number of in-house foster care households and the number of placements offered and the proportion of in-house fostering capacity utilised were available.


The Corporate Director noted that these figures were not available. There are 155 children in the local authority’s own foster care provision and 70% of children in our care are in family placements and about 45-50% are in our own provision. However, more foster carers are still needed.


The Chair asked about dental health and whether amongst looked-after children, are there significant problems about getting dental care for them.


The Corporate Director answered that there was a dedicated resource for children in care and children who are in care that needed to urgently access dental care, they can.


David Mehaffey (Executive Director of Strategy and Integration) commented that with regard to NEETs an action can be taken away to speak to NHS colleagues to make sure that partners are supported in that area.


The recommendation was proposed, seconded, and approved unanimously.


Resolved that:


a)    The Health and Wellbeing Board note the progress reported on the children’s services improvement plan and recent feedback from Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) following the first Monitoring Visit since the inspection in summer 2022.


Action - David Mehaffey to speak to NHS colleagues to make sure that partners are supported with regard to NEETs.


Supporting documents: