The Director of Children’s Services and the Director of Finance will be in attendance to provide an update in respect of the financial pressures facing Children’s Services.
The Executive Director of Children’s Services and the Council’s Director of Finance were in attendance and provided an update to the Board in respect of progress to date, as follows:-
· Children’s Services’ was continuing to evidence systemic improvements to outcomes for children, and more effective use of our collective resources, with strong corporate and whole-Council support;
· The positive analysis of collective impact for local people in Middlesbrough was supported by the rigorous scrutiny of our regulators (Ofsted; DfE; Commissioner). Currently on a three year programme of improvement;
· The implementation of robust performance management and the use of data to inform decision-making was an identified strength of local arrangements; and
· Children’s Services’ was increasingly well-positioned to understand, evaluate and forecast the impact of its services to inform medium and longer-term financial and resource planning.
Reference was made to the recent OFSTED monitoring report in which the inspectors had acknowledged that leaders had introduced and built on a comprehensive audit to excellence programme, enhanced performance management, and demand forecasting. OFSTED had also noted that new practice standards had also been introduced to provide clearer expectations or ‘non negotiables’ about the quality of social work practice.
In addition the Commissioner had stated that the work undertaken in Middlesbrough on understanding demand and future projections was of a very impressive nature, sophisticated enough to incorporate the challenges of analysing legacy issues whilst also incorporating ongoing COVID related impacts. The quality and clarity of this analysis and forecasting work enhanced leadership credibility and corporate support and engagement in improvement activity. The work had considerable potential to meet the ambition of joining improvement and financial strategies in a comprehensive Medium-Term Financial Forecast for Children’s services.
The Board was provided with information relating to placement demand led budgets and it was noted that progress had been made in reducing the number of children in both out of area residential placements and independent foster agency placements where appropriate. It was noted that internal provision and the use of internal provision had increased since 31 March 2021 with positive financial results. It was noted that £1.2 million of the costs incurred for Children in Care was contributed by Health.
It was advised that OFSTED had also acknowledged that there was now an approved, impressive Strategic Workforce Development Strategy with themes covering organisational design, recruitment and retention and workforce training and development. The sophistication and ambition displayed in the modelling work was exceptional. The strategy was clearly aligned with other strategic activity and had impressively sequenced ambitions and desired outcomes. Work was advanced on finalising the approach and determining the financial implications of the approach to enhance recruitment and retention in key roles.
A key comment by the Commissioner in respect of social worker caseloads and the concerns of children about changes to social workers were highlighted as follows:-
Although social worker’s workloads were reducing, they remained too high for some social workers. In addition some children experienced too many changes of social worker. Children told inspectors that if they could change anything they would like to have social workers who stayed with them for a long time. Too many changes of social workers affected relationship-building, as well as an understanding of children’s circumstances and needs and the progression of children’s plans.
In terms of forecasting and target setting it was explained that 7 proxy indicators had been developed with indicative targets based on Middlesbrough’s statistical neighbour averages. These indicators had been built into a scorecard to support the Leadership Management Team’s (LMT) decision-making and scrutiny. However, the modelling continued to evolve to take account of unknown and emerging factors in a unique era of national and local pressures.
It was explained that building on the last 12 months progress Children’s Services had set an ambition to achieve the statistical neighbour average for the overall rate of looked after children over the next 3 years. It was noted that this would bring Middlesbrough’s children in care population in line with the average with its statistical neighbours as follows:-
Rochdale, Stoke on Trent, Tameside, Salford, Knowsley, Blackpool, Kingston-upon-Hull, Hartlepool, Halton and South Tyneside.
In terms of the proposed scorecard for LMT it was advised that the following 7 proxy indicators and targets to be achieved over the next 3 years (2021/22 – 2023/24) had been developed:-
1) Number of substantive posts filled with agency social workers - Reduce to National Average of 15%
2) Number of children in care (no/rate) – Reduce to Statistical Neighbour Average
3) Number of children placed in external residential placements - Reduce to modelled Middlesbrough Target
4) Number of children placed in in house residential provision - Increase to modelled Middlesbrough Target
5) Number of children placed with in-house foster carers - Increase to modelled Middlesbrough
6) Number of children placed with Independent Foster Agency (IFA) carers - Reduced to modelled Middlesbrough Target
7) Proportion of placement moves in the reporting period which have incurred less cost (excludes same cost movements) - Incremental Year on Year Increase
Following the update, Members were afforded the opportunity to ask questions.
A Member of the Board extended their congratulations to the Executive Director of Children’s Services and all of her team on the miraculous turn around that had been achieved. In the presentation provided the Executive Director had given the Board great confidence that positive progress was being made in Children Services’ following OFSTED’s judgement in December 2019 when service provision was found to be inadequate. Delighted to see that the number of children in external residential placements had decreased, which was better for the children and in terms of ensuring value for money.
In response to a query it was advised that in terms of the costs of external placement it was advised that the high sums involved were not unusual and some children had exceptionally high levels of need. However, it was emphasised that Executive Directors of Children’s Services priority was to ensure that wherever possible Middlesbrough children stayed in Middlesbrough. Reference was also made to the Future for Families Hub, which was focused on preventing children needing to come into care and keeping down the cost of external placements. Needs of children and level of supervision were unique to each child and there was a great deal of market competition for placements. It was emphasised that great emphasis had been placed on increased internal residential provision. For example, Daniel Court had now opened and was operating at full capacity.
The Director of Finance advised that there were currently 57 children in external residential placements and the average cost of those placements was £3,874 per week.
In response to a query it was confirmed that all Elected Members would be provided with a copy of the Commissioner’s full report once published.
The Chair thanked the Executive Director of Children’s Services and the Director of Finance for their attendance and contribution to the meeting.