Meeting documents

Social Services Scrutiny Committee
Thursday, 12th April, 2018 9.30 am

Date: Thursday 12th April 2018 Time: 09:30 a.m. Place: Council Chamber, Civic Centre, Ebbw Vale

Please note: all Minutes are subject to approval at the next Meeting

PresentAndReport toReport of
COUNCILLOR S.C. THOMAS (CHAIR)
Item
No
Item/Resolution Status Action
PUBLIC
1. TUDALEN GLAWR AGENDA GYMRAEG/WELSH VERSION OF AGENDA COVERSHEET
Tudalen Glawr Agenda Gymraeg/Welsh Agenda Coversheet (287K/bytes)
Noted
2. SIMULTANEOUS TRANSLATION

It was noted that no requests had been received for the simultaneous translation service.

Noted
3. APOLOGIES

An apology for absence was received from Councillor T. Sharrem.

Noted
4. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST AND DISPENSATIONS

There were no declarations of interest or dispensations reported.

Noted
5. SOCIAL SERVICES SCRUTINY COMMITTEE MEETING
Minutes (283K/bytes)
Cofnodion (280K/bytes)

The Minutes of the Social Services Scrutiny Committee Meeting held on 22nd February, 2018 was submitted.

RESOLVED that the Minutes be accepted as a true record of proceedings.

Agreed
6. ACTION SHEET
Action Sheet (42K/bytes)

The Action Sheet arising from the Social Services Scrutiny Committee Meeting held on 22nd February, 2018 was submitted.

RESOLVED that the Action Sheet be noted.

Agreed
7. UPDATE ON THE LOOKED AFTER CHILDREN POPULATION IN BLAENAU GWENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SAFE REDUCTION OF LOOKED AFTER CHILDREN STRATEGY
Report (608K/bytes)
Appendix 2 (145K/bytes)
Appendix 3 (70K/bytes)

Consideration was given to the report of the Head of Children's Services, which was presented to update Members on the current situation in relation to the numbers of children who are looked after and the progress made in relation to the implementation of the Safe Reduction of Looked After Children Strategy.

The Head of Children's Services spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.

The Officer stated that in future reporting performance information will be included to show the move in placements.

A Member commented on the increase in the number of children placed in residential care. The Head of Children's Services said that it was a significant increase which had resulted in the projected overspend of 466k. The residential placement budget had been uplifted but did not cover the overspend.

The Corporate Director of Social Services commented that the Looked After Children budget had been increased by 2m but this had not covered the previous year's overspend and had left the Directorate with a deficit of 0.5m at the start of the financial year.

The Chair commented that the overspend in the Looked After Children budget would inevitably impact on the Council as a whole. This was a critical service for vulnerable children and a further increase in the budget was needed to address the overspend.

In relation to the proposed 3 year pilot scheme to recruit specialist professional foster carers, a Member enquired as to what qualifications would be required.

The Head of Children's Services said that the report was due to be presented to the Executive Committee in April and if agreed the proposed 3 year pilot scheme would enable the Council to recruit a small number of specialist experienced foster carers who would treat fostering like a profession and not take other employment outside the home. The posts would not only be based on qualifications but on experience and knowledge base for children with complex needs. Pay allowances are based on bandings 1-3 for general foster carers and would depend on experience. There would be a fixed payment for professional foster carers. The Head of Children's Services would report back to the Scrutiny Committee with further details of pay allowances for general foster carers in Blaenau Gwent.

In response to a Member's question regarding allowances and what checks were carried out on family members for Looked After Children, the Head of Children's Services said that safeguarding was a priority, the team would look firstly to immediate family members to place the children. Court judgements meant that these children were then classed as Looked After Children. Assessments of family members were carried out and some met the competencies for foster carers and subsequently continued to foster children.

The Corporate Director of Social Services commented that the increase in LAC was a direct result of the number of cases going through the Courts. Children placed with grandparents would be classed as LAC. There were concerns that some of these arrangements were labelling children unnecessarily as Looked After.

A Member enquired if the overspend in Children's Services would impact on Adult's Services. The Corporate Director said that funds from other areas such as winter pressure grants and delayed transfer of care grants were being utilised which would create some efficiencies in Adult Services and this funding would be better placed for use for LAC. The projected overspend was nearly 1m which emphasised the scale of the financial costs to the Authority for LAC. He added that other local authorities also struggled to meet the financial costs of this service. How local authorities paid for social care in the future needed to be tackled on a UK basis.

In response to a Member's question regarding challenging Court decisions on children classified as LAC, the Head of Children's Services said that a working group had been set up to support social workers to manage risk under the child protection umbrella rather than putting cases before the Court. The Directorate had sought legal advice on a regional basis and this advice was being used to guide practice to safely reduce the numbers of children becoming Looked After.

A Member commented that Members should have an input into foster care panels and attend sessions to have a greater understanding of the issues involved with these cases.

In relation to Flying Start the Head of Children's Services said that the programme only targeted the most deprived areas in Blaenau Gwent. The Authority was lobbying the Welsh Government to change the way the programme was delivered to enable greater roll out across the Authority due to the high levels of deprivation.
However, an outreach element allowing 10% of overall numbers in the non Flying Start areas to access the programme was being implemented, these children's needs would be identified at an early stage by Health Visitors etc. to prevent needs from escalating.

A Member pointed out an error on page 44 point 22 of the report, it read 'this post had been in place since November 2018' this should be amended to read 'November 2017'.

A Member enquired regarding care leavers in further Education. The Head of Children's Services said that a Briefing Session would be arranged for Members on this issue shortly. She clarified that support was provided for care leavers who were in further Education up to the age of 25. There was a drive to support all LAC up to the age of 25 and not just for those in Education.

In relation to allowances for foster carers, the Head of Children's Services said that the minimum allowance was set by the Welsh Government with local authorities setting their own fee to attract foster carers. Blaenau Gwent was comparable with neighbouring authorities. If the allowance was reduced there would be a risk that foster carers would work for neighbouring authorities who offered better financial rewards. There were also risks attached to working regionally as the different allowances offered could see some foster carers at a detriment.

A Member commented that the Welsh Government should set a national allowance for all local authorities to adhere to.

Another Member commented that she had met independent foster carers who had chosen to become a Blaenau Gwent foster carer who would receive less money but greater support from the Authority.

The Corporate Director of Social Services said that the Local Authority fostered 2/3rd of the LAC, while the Independent Fostering Agency fostered the remaining 1/3rd but the cost of both was roughly the same. It was in the Authority's best interests to employ foster carers and reduce the need for Independent Fostering Agency placements and achieve significant savings.

A Member commented that neighbouring authorities had introduced the cessation of Council Tax payments to help support care leavers.

The Chair said that this proposal would need to be presented to the Corporate Overview Scrutiny Committee for discussion. The Head of Children's Services said that this had been discussed at the Corporate Parenting Board and a report would need to be prepared and presented to the Corporate Leadership Team in the first instance and then reported to the Social Services Scrutiny Committee. She added that it would only be very small numbers.

In relation to the high external legal costs the Head of Children's Services commented that it was difficult to recruit solicitors on a fixed term basis which had resulted in the use of external solicitors. The Corporate Director of Social Services said that the Managing Director was looking at collaboration with neighbouring authorities and some progress had been made in this area.

The Chair enquired about the recent inspection of Children's Services. The Head of Children's Services said that the written report would be received at the beginning of May but had received verbal feedback from the two week inspection which had reviewed 65 cases and had recognised that Blaenau Gwent had an exceptional workforce with good access to managers, although some staff had difficulty in striking a work life balance. She would provide Members with a further update when the written report was received.

As this was the last meeting in the cycle the Chair enquired if the Social Services Scrutiny Committee needed to recommend to the Executive that more capacity was needed in the Directorate.

The Corporate Director of Social Services said that at this point in time he was content with staff capacity as the Safe Reduction of Looked After Children Strategy was new and needed time to embed. He would review this again next year if the workload in the service area had not sufficiently reduced and, if necessary, bring a report to the Social Services Scrutiny Committee.

RESOLVED to recommend, subject to the foregoing, that the report be accepted and Option 1 be supported and the information contained in the report be noted.

Agreed
8. DRAFT GWENT VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, DOMESTIC ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE STRATEGY
Report (128K/bytes)
Appendix 2 (2M/bytes)
Appendix 3 (178K/bytes)

Consideration was given to report of the Corporate Director of Social Services, which was presented to provide Members with the Draft Gwent Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (VAWDASV) Strategy and seek any recommendations prior to presentation to the Executive Committee.

The Corporate Director of Social Services spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.

A Member enquired if there was a strategy for violence against men. The Corporate Director said that the strategy did include men, and brought to the attention of Members the news last week about residential places for men fleeing violence within Bridgend, but that the numbers were low in Gwent seeking accommodation, although this would need to be monitored. He added that all Blaenau Gwent staff would receive VAWDASV training through the eLearning module, and those staff who did not have access to email would receive face to face sessions. VAWDASV training for Members would be arranged in the near future.

In response to a Member's question regarding the support offered to individuals at risk, the Corporate Director advised that anyone seeking support should contact their Line Manager or Team Leader who would guide them in the right direction to receive assistance and support. As all staff members would receive VAWDASV training, individuals could also seek help and support from their colleagues.

A Member suggested that a Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Champion be identified. The Corporate Director said that this option could be pursued.

RESOLVED to recommend, subject to the foregoing, that the report be accepted and Option 1 be supported, namely:-

  • that the draft strategy be recommended to the Executive Committee for a decision on the final response from the Council to the Gwent VAWDASV Partnership Board; and
  • that a Member Champion be identified to provide support to staff.
Agreed
9. REPORT ON THE REVIEW INTO THE QUALITY OF LIFE IN CARE SETTINGS BY THE OLDER PEOPLES COMMISSIONER FOR WALES
Report (455K/bytes)
Appendix 2 (2M/bytes)
Appendix 3 (175K/bytes)
Appendix 4 (148K/bytes)

Consideration was given to report of the Corporate Director of Social Services, which was presented to provide Members with an overview on the formal review by the Older People's Commissioner for Wales (OPC) into the quality of life and care of older people in residential care settings across Wales and in Blaenau Gwent.

The Corporate Director of Social Services spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein. He informed Members that Blaenau Gwent's responses to the Requirements for Action had been analysed as 'Sufficient' by the Older People's Commissioner. The OPC had recognised the Authority had demonstrated a commitment to deliver the changes required to improve the quality of life of older people in residential care in Blaenau Gwent.

The Chair commented that Blaenau Gwent was a small Authority which had made significant progress in challenging circumstances.

A Member commented on the positive comments received from the OPC and added that it was pleasing to note that the improvements delivered across the care homes within Blaenau Gwent had been recognised by the OPC.

RESOLVED to recommend that the report be accepted and the Scrutiny Committee recommend consideration by the Executive Committee.

Agreed