To consider the report of the Head of
Consideration was given to the report of the Head of Children’s Services which was presented to update Members on the progress made in relation to the implementation of the Safe Reduction of Children Looked After Strategy 2017-2020.
The Head of Children’s Services spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.
In response to a Member’s question regarding special guardians, the Head of Children’s Services said that special guardians were generally extended family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles.
A Member enquired regarding the difficulties of recruiting a consultant psychologist. The Head of Children’s Services said that the psychologist role had been advertised on two separate occasions with no applicants. There was a shortage of psychologists and although the Authority were competitive with bandings, grant funding was short term.
In relation to the CLA reduction strategy, the Chair commented that the strategy was being independently evaluated by Worcester University and enquired had the Council worked with Newport Council when developing the Supporting Change Team. The Head of Children’s Services responded that the Authority had looked at both Newport and Gwynedd models and had chosen to follow the Gwynedd model.
A Member enquired regarding payments to special guardians and the level of care provided to break the cycle for young people to live a good life and not come back into care. The Head of Children’s Services said the level of support to Special Guardians included:-
· The local authority develop a plan outlining the support given to promote a successful placement.
· Allowances to special guardians – the authority would access the financial position of the special guardian and support financially if necessary. This was then reviewed annually.
· If a placement breaks down the team would look at the child’s situation and seek another family member to look after them as an alternative to coming into care.
In response to a Member’s question regarding the Children’s Services legal support, the Head of Children’s Services said that soft market testing had been carried out with one private law company and one local authority expressed an interest in delivering future legal services for Blaenau Gwent Council. The Member enquired if there would be cost benefits to employing a Children’s Solicitor rather than use costly external solicitors. The Director of Social Services commented that this piece of work had been carried out and there had been difficulties in recruiting Local Authority Child Care Solicitors. He was continuing to explore partner working with other local authorities and was awaiting any interest in supporting Blaenau Gwent in this provision.
A Member enquired why the mediation support worker post was part time. The Head of Children’s Services clarified that funding only supported one part time post, however, this was in addition to the full time post already in place.
With regard to early intervention, the Head of Children’s Services commented that an Education Support Worker had been established in the Supporting Change Team to offer education support for children and families for children at risk of going into care. The Families first programme worked closely with schools to forge relationships and support children showing difficulties in school.
In response to a Member’s question regarding the underspend in Children’s Services for quarter 2, the Head of Children’s Services said that one area of underspend was staffing, there was currently 8 or 9 social worker vacancies. Difficulties in recruiting externally to Social Worker posts had led to the Department to encourage internal support workers to undertake training to become Social Workers and fill vacant posts. There had also been an underspend in Independent Fostering Agencies costs as the Authority was placing fewer children with external fostering providers. With regard to Residential Placements, Children’s Services received a grant of £761,000 and this had been set against the residential placement budget. A Members Briefing session was being held in November on the work of the MyST team, they worked with children in residential care to bring them back to foster care placements to improve outcomes for children and reduce pressure on the residential budget.
A Member enquired as the number of children in residential placements was reducing, had the numbers of foster carers in Blaenau Gwent increased. The Head of Children’s Services said that within the last six months there had been an increase in fostering enquiries, however, some children had been placed with extended family members and this had resulted in the reduced number of residential placements.
In response to a Member’s question regarding the number of children in foster care to date, the Head of Children’s Services confirmed that presently there were 223 children in foster care.
The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and endorse Option 1; namely that the information contained within the report be approved.