Agenda item

Overview of Children's Services

The Executive Director of Children’s Services will be in attendance to provide the Panel with an overview of the main services within its remit and outline the key priorities, issues and challenges for the year ahead.  (Verbal)


S Butcher, Executive Director of Children’s Services, was in attendance at the meeting to provide the Panel with an overview of the main services within its remit and to outline the key priorities, issues and challenges for the year ahead.


The Executive Director explained that her post was a statutory role that all local authorities were required to have.  All local authorities were also required to have a Lead Member for Children’s Services and this role was currently being fulfilled by the Mayor in Middlesbrough. 


The Executive Director was responsible for children in Middlesbrough, both in terms of social care and education, heading up a single Children’s Services and emphasised the importance of all parts of the directorate working together as a single service to provide the best outcomes for Middlesbrough’s children.


Children’s Care and Education and Partnerships and sat within the Children’s Services directorate.


The following Services sat within Children’s Care, headed by the Director of Children’s Care:-


·        Early Help – Preventative work undertaken with children and families.  A shift towards more work being done at Early Help level had been identified as part of the ongoing improvement journey which was a positive sign as it meant more children and families were being helped at an earlier stage before issues increased to crisis point and statutory interventions were required.  Caseloads within Early Help were currently quite high so positioning of resources needed to be monitored.  An Early Help Strategy was in place.


·        Multi Agency Children’s Hub (MACH) – First point of contact for all agencies where there was a concern about a child or young person.  All contacts were filtered and measured against the threshold of need to determine where the referral should be directed.  Some would be referred to Early Help and those considered to require social care intervention would be referred to the Assessment Service.


·        Assessment Service – The function of this Service was to assess the situation with the family by carrying out a Single Assessment within 45 days from the point of referral.  The assessment would determine whether any further action was needed, whether the case could be stepped down to Early Help or whether the family required more significant help.  Where more significant help was needed, the family could be directed through the following routes:-


-        Child in Need – Middlesbrough currently had two managed Innovate Teams who were taking on a significant amount of Children in Need work.  The target timescale for completing work with Children in Need was 12 weeks.


-        Safeguarding and Care Planning – Where a case was considered to be more serious or significant risks were identified within the family, it would be moved to this Service.  This Service worked with children on Child Protection plans and it was highlighted that the numbers of children on Child Protection plans had started to reduce slightly, with a shift towards more Early Help provision.  Safeguarding and Care Planning was also the area with legal expertise and determined whether applications for Court Orders, including Care Orders, should be made.  This was a very skilled area of work requiring Social Workers to go into the Court arena, being well-prepared.


-        Children Looked After – Consisted of three teams.  The numbers of children looked after had significantly reduced – from 702 in August 2020 to 531 in July 2021. 


·        Care Leavers (Pathways) – From the age of 18 children were no longer considered ‘looked after’ but were supported through the Care Leavers Team.  The Team’s practitioners ensured that young people were supported into education, employment and training.  A CAMHS worker was situated within the team and was making a difference to young people’s lives.  Many young people needed support between the ages of 18 – 25 which was provided by this team.


·        Independent Reviewing Officers – This was a Team of Officers who reviewed all children who were looked after children on a regular basis – generally every six months.  This provided an assurance mechanism to ensure children were happy and thriving in their placement.


·        Adoption – Adoption work was mainly undertaken with Adoption Tees Valley – the Regional Adoption Agency.  Children’s Services worked with the children who were being recommended for adoption, whilst ATV was responsible for assessing adopters.  Children’s Services and ATV matched the children with suitable adopters together and the Executive Director was also the Agency Decision Maker (ADM) who made the final decision as to whether a child should be placed for adoption and then as to whether the match was suitable to proceed, following the recommendations made by the Adoption Panel.


·        Children With Disabilities Team and Short Break Service


·        Residential Children’s Homes – Middlesbrough was fortunate to still have internal residential provision (as not all local authorities did).  More recently, a nine-bed supported lodgings accommodation was opened at Daniel Court for care leavers prior to moving to independent living.


·        Strategic Services - Led by the Head of Strategic Services, this Team was responsible for the planning, monitoring and preparation of key information for various bodies such as the Children’s Improvement Board and inspections.


The following Services sat within Education and Partnerships, led by the Director of Education and Partnerships:-


·        Provision of support to schools in Middlesbrough, including 11 maintained primary schools (all other primary schools in Middlesbrough and all of its secondary schools were academies).


·        Virtual School – ensuring that the best interests of children looked after were upheld in school.


·        Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) – Support for children with SEND, including maintenance of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP).  This service worked closely with Children’s Social Care and the Virtual School.  Support was also provided to vulnerable children, for example, those who had been excluded from school or children who were not achieving as expected.


·        Community Learning – further education programmes and support.


·        Youth Offending Service – Operating across the south tees area.


The Executive Director highlighted that relationships between schools and Children’s Services had improved immensely during the pandemic which was promising.


The Panel heard that the following were priorities for 2021/22 within Children’s Services:-


·        Covid Recovery – continuing to work through Covid to improve services.


·        Recruitment and Retention of Social Workers – Children’s Services currently had a high proportion of agency staff and it was recognised that a stable workforce was key to sustaining improvement.  One of the main strands of the Workforce Development Strategy was recruitment and retention, looking at how to make Middlesbrough’s Children’s Services an employer of choice. 


·        Use of finance – A good deal of work had been done on demand forecasting – identifying what was needed to provide services.   Once a stable status was achieved in terms of workforce and a move towards more preventative work being undertaken, budgets would need to be brought in-line.


·        Variability of Practice – A key theme throughout Ofsted visits and inspections was variability of practice.  It was acknowledged that Children’s Services had good practice in some areas but this needed to be levelled up across the service and be consistently good.


·        Partnership Working – Essential within the directorate, corporately and with external partners such as Health, Police, Schools, other Local Authorities.


·        Vulnerable Children – To look at young people who were missing and/or at risk of criminal exploitation.  The Futures for Families Hub worked with families on the edge of care and a Vulnerable Adolescents Strategy had been produced, exploring how to work with and best support those vulnerable young people who were at a critical point in their lives.


·        Overarching all of the above was the Improvement Plan.  The plan was refreshed each time there was a visit/inspection by Ofsted or the Children’s Commissioner.


During discussion, the following issues were raised:-


·        The Executive Director was asked to provide clarification around the term ‘maintained primary schools’.  The Panel was informed that a maintained school was one that was still run by the local authority.  Many schools had now moved out to become academies and operated independently, with some schools belonging to multi-academy trusts made up of several schools.  Whilst the local authority had some influence on academies, they operated under their own rules.


·        It was queried how many children the Youth Offending Service worked with.  The Executive Director advised that it was a South Tees Service operated in partnership with Redcar and Cleveland and worked well.  The Executive Director did not have the figures to hand but would provide the Middlesbrough figures to the Panel in due course.


·        Reference was made to the occupation of Daniel Court and it was confirmed that there was currently eight young people residing there with a ninth person due to move in.  It was also confirmed that the accommodation was supported.


·        It was queried how many children were receiving short break support.  Again the Executive Director advised that she would provide the Panel with those figures in due course.


The Panel wished to place on record their thanks to all staff working within Children’s Services for their hard work and continued efforts in supporting the improvement journey.  The Executive Director advised that she would convey this to staff at her next staff briefing meeting.


AGREED that the information provided be noted.