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Agenda item


To update the Scrutiny Committee on the work of the ‘Getting to Good’ Journey for Social Care and Youth Offending.



Mrs Diane Booth, Director of Children’s Services provided an update on the work of the ‘Getting to Good’ journey implemented in response to the Ofsted inspection rating of Inadequate for Children’s Social Care. It was explained to the Committee that the change of name reflected the high aspirations of the Council to exceed the original goal of a ‘Requires Improvement’ rating.


The Committee heard that Children’s Social Care had reached the end of the second 12 week plan implemented to drive improvement, with Mrs Booth reporting small and steadying developments being made. With regards to the recruitment of additional Social Care staff, Members were informed that although the department was still experiencing challenges in securing quality candidates for permanent positions, there had been significant success in the recruitment programme, with 33 permanent new starters appointed since January 2019.


It was identified that audit activity and performance information indicated incremental improvements and that the Corporate Delivery Unit had brought added value and would support with the creation of a strategic six month plan. Mrs Booth confirmed that all 85 actions from the original improvement plan had been achieved, and that a smaller plan was now being actioned.


Mrs Booth informed the Committee that the Independent Commissioner appointed to work with Children’s Services had been reviewing services at the Council since the end of April 2019. It was clarified that the Commissioner would make an assessment of whether the local authority should retain the provision of children’s services and its ability to implement improvements as well as the sustainability of such improvements, following which she would then submit her findings and recommendations to the Department for Education, with a decision expected on 5 July 2019. 


The Chairman queried whether the Commissioner could have deemed that progress was inadequate during the initial 12 week review period, with Mrs Booth advising that the full process must be completed prior to a decision being taken.


Concerns were raised around the robustness and longevity of the improvement plan, with reference made to previous improvement journeys which had subsequently lapsed once the review period had ceased. Mrs Booth acknowledged that previous strategic plans had not been continued sufficiently, resulting in the halting of progress. Members were assured that improvements would be ongoing and permanent, with no deviation from the strategic plan, even once improvements had been embedded.


Mrs Booth further expanded on the particular challenges faced by Children’s Social Care which were specific to Blackpool, identifying that maintaining a strong leadership team in the long-term needed to be a priority. Retention of experienced managerial staff was raised as a concern, with employees leaving the authority despite being informed of the challenges of the role prior to commencement. Mrs Booth felt confident that strong strategic and corporate leadership was now in place despite there still being two remaining vacancies.


Mr Robert Arrowsmith, Head of Performance and Systems explained to the Committee how Blackpool had a disproportionally large number of children placed on care plans as well as large numbers of looked after children. In comparison to other comparable coastal towns, Mr Arrowsmith explained that due to the behaviour of service providers and partners, data demonstrated that cases were escalated and referred to Children’s Social Care earlier than was seen in other areas with similar levels of deprivation. The result was that Blackpool experienced increased numbers of children concentrated at the higher end of levels of intervention.


It was further explained that the current position could be traced back to a starting period between 10 to 12 years ago, with patterns of behaviours beginning to deviate from the usual pattern seen elsewhere. Mr Arrowsmith asserted that although Blackpool was different, it was not so singular as to explain the variances seen. He gave the opinion that the differences in performance were due to the ways in which services were being delivered and the resulting high numbers of children accessing care services. It was suggested that services were not addressing issues appropriately, with examples from other localities demonstrating a more successful approach.


Members further heard that it would be necessary for ongoing major changes in service provision to occur in order to secure improvements. Mr Arrowsmith highlighted that schools were not suitably inclusive, reiterating that entire partnerships needed an evaluation of their behaviour and a thorough examination of previous actions and a resulting culture shift in approach.


Members sought clarification on the fact that it was not necessarily Blackpool families that caused the extremely high numbers of children accessing care services, but rather the way in which services responded to their needs. Mr Arrowsmith confirmed this to be the case, highlighting that the rates of children being looked after and those accessing care services were disproportionally high, and the initial challenge would be to get Blackpool performing closer to other parts of the country.


Mrs Booth reiterated that all services were linked and that it was imperative that children and young people were at the centre of all strategic decisions and actions. Members heard that long-standing cultural habits needed to be addressed, challenging the assumption that putting children into care was the best course of action to keep them safe, rather than the provision of support to keep families together. It was highlighted to the Committee that removing children from their families and placing them in care did not always improve their long-term outcomes and that instead work was ongoing with partners to improve the provision of support offered to families in need.


A query was raised in relation to the seeming reduction in open cases, yet a rise in protection plans. Mr Arrowsmith explained that Child Protection plans had remained high in response to the initial inspection rating, with children remaining on plans longer than may be necessary due to a lack of confidence from practitioners to end the plans in place.

Questions were raised over the extra financial resources being made available to Children’s Services as the service had been identified as already being over budget. Mrs Booth confirmed that additional funding had been committed to the whole service to ensure that improvements could be made and embedded over the long-term.


Committee members queried the fact that adoption levels were at their lowest levels for five years, with questions raised over the impact of media promotion of adoption services. Mrs Booth stated that alternative options to adoption were on the increase, citing special guardianships as a viable alternative. Ms Jeanette Richards, Head of Partnerships and Improvement, reiterated that courts were awarding fewer adoption rulings, with adoption only considered where no other solutions were available. As a result, the Committee was informed, the national promotion of adoption had been halted across the North West.


Mr Steve Ashley, Independent Chair for the Blackpool Safeguarding Children Board presented information to the Committee in relation to the Board’s role in overseeing improvements to services. Mr Ashley identified neglect as the biggest driver of children entering the care system, stating that the Neglect Strategy had not resulted in the anticipated fall in numbers. It was also made clear that schools needed to improve at identifying and addressing cases of neglect, with alternative support offered to families before automatically referring to Children’s Social Care. Mr Ashley stressed the importance of engaging partners in order to move away from the expectation that Children’s Social Care would tackle all problems.


The Committee requested that due to the size and complexity of both the Children’s Services Ofsted review and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) inspection of Blackpool’s Youth Offending Service that future updates to the Committee be reported as two separate items with a summary of progress provided for ease of understanding.


Mrs Booth expressed to the Committee that its role was vital as an additional monitoring function of the improvement process, with Scrutiny’s strategic overview offering a valuable function.


The Committee agreed to continue to monitor the improvement plans of the Youth Offending Team and Children’s Social Care.


Ms Richards and Mr Arrowsmith left the meeting following the conclusion of this item.

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