Meeting documents

Social Services Scrutiny Committee
Thursday, 18th April, 2019 9.30 am

Date: Thursday 18th April 2019 Time: 9.30 a.m. Place: Council Chamber, Civic Centre

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

PresentAndReport toReport of

COUNCILLOR S. C. THOMAS - CHAIR

Councillors K. Rowson
D. Bevan
G. A. Davies
K. Hayden
J. Holt
J. Millard
M. Moore
K. Pritchard
T. Smith
B. Summers

Corporate Director of Social Services
Head of Children�s Services
Head of Legal & Corporate Compliance
Scrutiny Adviser

THE CHAIR AND MEMBERS OF THE COUNCILDEMOCRATIC SERVICES OFFICER
Item
No
Item/Resolution Status Action
PUBLIC
1. TUDALEN GLAWR AGENDA GYMRAEG/WELSH VERSION OF AGENDA COVERSHEET
Tudalen Glawr Agenda Gymraeg/Welsh Version of Agenda Coversheet (170K/bytes)
Noted
2. SIMULTANEOUS TRANSLATION

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

Noted
3. APOLOGIES

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors S. Healy, J.P. Morgan, T. Sharrem, J. Wilkins.

Noted
4. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST AND DISPENSATIONS

There were no declarations of interest or dispensations reported.

Noted
5. SOCIAL SERVICES SCRUTINY COMMITTEE
Minutes (279K/bytes)
Cofnodion (159K/bytes)

The Minutes of the Social Services Scrutiny Committee held on 7th March, 2019 were submitted.

�

The Committee AGREED that the Minutes be accepted as a true record of proceedings.
�

Agreed
6. ACTION SHEET
Action Sheet (59K/bytes)

The Action Sheet arising from the Social Services Scrutiny Committee held on 7th March, 2019 was submitted.

�

The Committee AGREED that the Action Sheet be noted.
�

Agreed
7. PROFESSIONAL LEGAL SUPPORT TO CHILD PROTECTION CASES, SOCIAL SERVICES
Report (109K/bytes)
Appendix 1 (66K/bytes)

Consideration was given to the report of the Head of Legal & Corporate Compliance which outlined the proposals for future service provision for legal support to child protection cases within Social Services.

�

The Head of Legal & Corporate Compliance spoke to the report which had been submitted in response to a previous question from the Committee, and also an ongoing review of service provision undertaken since last year. The Officer said Members would be aware of the difficulties experienced regionally in recruiting child protection lawyers and this had resulted in a vacant post within the Council�s Legal Team for some time. The Authority had been sourcing this legal advice from external solicitors through the National Procurement Framework and this had proved very successful. Whilst this approach was slightly more expensive, this work was a critical safeguarding provision in terms of child protection.

The Officer referred to the Options outlined in the report which had been considered by CLT and confirmed that Option 2 was recommended for approval, i.e. to undertake an initial procurement exercise, commencing with expressions of interest to include other Local Authorities. The provision of this service was a statutory responsibility for the Council and was very demanding work often to very restricted timescales, and appendix 1 outlined the historical costs associated with the professional legal service.

�

In response to questions raised by Members, the Officer explained that external firms determined their own fees in line with Law Society Guidance. However, there were variances in the hourly rates for solicitors in terms of advisor�s positions within the firms, and also regional variances. In relation to other providers, option 2 would provide opportunity to gauge wider interest which would hopefully include other Local Authorities, as a regional collaborative arrangement would be beneficial in providing a resilient service and a career pathway that would attract solicitors to this field of expertise.

�

In relation to recruitment the Officer explained that there were capacity issues throughout the region, however, larger LA�s were able to provide a more attractive career structure, whereas smaller LA�s like Blaenau Gwent were finding it more difficult to recruit.

A Member asked whether Welsh Government were doing any work to encourage recruitment, and also asked whether there were any limits to how much money we were able to pay an external provider.

�

The Officer said the issue of recruitment was recognised at a local level, but she was not aware of any active national initiatives being undertaken. In terms of regulations of spend, the Council had a statutory responsibility to provide this service and she was not aware of any limitations on the level of fees. However, the Council had both internal and external systems of financial management and audit in place to ensure that spend was reasonable in terms of financial regulations.

�

A discussion ensued when the Officer confirmed that fees paid out had increased as a result of the vacant post.

The Head of Children�s Services said it was important to point out that the number of court cases had decreased this year, from 61 cases in 2017/18 to 45 in 2018/19.


The Chair said Welsh Government should look at the situation across Wales as this was a critical service in terms of safeguarding of children.

�

The Corporate Director of Social Services confirmed that the issue was on the Welsh Government radar. They were visiting all LA�s in Wales to discuss further development of the strategy to reduce the number of looked after children, and would be visiting Blaenau Gwent on the 26th April, 2019.

�

In response to a question raised by a Member the Head of Legal & Corporate Compliance explained that, in the report, �disbursements not included in the professional fees� meant court fees and any additional costs that may be incurred in a particular case, e.g. psychologist reports, etc.

The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and Option 2 be endorsed, namely to undertake a formal procurement exercise and request expressions of interest from any providers (public or private) who may be able to offer professional services to Social Services Child Protection, and possibly Adult Services also. The scope to be determined after further discussion.
�

Agreed
8. ANNUAL REPORT OF THE DIRECTOR OF SOCIAL SERVICES 2018/19 (QUARTER 3)
Report (126K/bytes)
Appendix 1 (3M/bytes)

Consideration was given to the report of the Corporate Director of Social Services which provided the key points from Quarter 3 of the Annual Report of the Director of Social Services2018/2019.

�

The Corporate Director of Social Services and the Head of Children�s Services presented the report and highlighted the headline updates in terms of performance and outcomes for Children�s Services and Adult Services.

�

The Head of Children�s Services reported that the number of looked after children was showing a downward trend, and it was believed that this was the result of implementation of the Safe Reduction of Looked After Children Strategy.

A Member referred to the development of My Support Team (MyST) and asked what processes were in place to ensure delivery within Blaenau Gwent. In response the Officer confirmed that a SLA was being developed in relation to management of the service to ensure an equitable allocation of resources.

�

A Member asked whether there were sufficient foster carers available in Blaenau Gwent to provide homes for children coming out of residential care.

�

The Officer confirmed that efforts were still being made to recruit foster carers, and one of the challenges over the next 12 months was the need for quality foster carers equipped to deal with the complex needs of children coming out of residential care. Work had commenced with our existing foster carers to support them in taking the next step to more complex placements, with the provision of very robust support and financial assistance.

�

In response to comments made by a Member regarding the work of the Community Connectors, the Corporate Director of Social Services undertook to provide Members with a list of Community Connectors and the areas they covered. He confirmed that the service was widely promoted throughout the Borough and the number of referrals was increasing. The more the Connectors were out and about in the Borough, the more people were starting to engage which was encouraging. Discussions were ongoing regarding a regional approach, and also developing the service for children.

�

A Member said that a Members� Briefing Session on the work of the Community Connectors would be beneficial.

�

In response to a further question regarding the number of children on the child protection register, the Head of Children�s Services said there were currently 46 children on the register which was a significant reduction, and a reflection of the preventative work being undertaken.

�

The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and Option 2 be endorsed, namely that the report be accepted as provided.
�

Agreed