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Agenda item


To consider the Children’s Services Medium Term Financial Services before it is submitted to the Executive.


Ms Vicky Gent, Director of Children’s Services, presented the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) for Children’s Services. The report outlined that the MTFS was the result of a refresh of the document undertaken in 2022 and was underpinned by actions across the service that are designed to ensure that more children and families receive coordinated and effective early help. Ms Gent added that if achieved the actions outlined would bring Blackpool in to line with levels of demand experienced by comparable local authorities.


Targeted early intervention by services had been recognised as the most effective approach in delivering positive outcomes for children. It was also emphasised that untargeted excessive interventions could be expensive and cause harm to children, young people and families. The MTFS therefore sought to reduce cost pressures through a strategic approach of targeted intervention, at the right time and right level by the most appropriate service, which would deliver positive outcomes for children, young people and families.


Members of the Committee discussed what ‘normal’ would look like for Blackpool, querying what levels of demand were experienced in comparable authorities. Mr Chris Coyle, Assistant Director of Children’s Services, explained that areas in the North East of England, such as Middlesbrough, with similar levels of deprivation to Blackpool offered the best comparators. In these cases ‘normal’ was represented by 175 looked after children per 10k people, or approximately 500 children in care. Blackpool had 205 per 10k at the time of the meeting, although it was noted that this was 15% lower than during June 2022.


The Committee asked if data on looked after children numbers from 2019 to the present day could be provided for information, which would demonstrate the impact of improvement work.


Mr Coyle emphasised that although it was desirable to reduce the number of children in care, the service would seek to do this in a sustained and safe manner, with priority focussed on the outcomes for children, not statistics. The Committee also asked if Middlesbrough or other comparable authorities could provide any learning that could be applied in Blackpool to safely reduce numbers. Mr Coyle explained in response that although the Council was open to examining models of best practice in other areas, it had to be careful that if implemented in Blackpool that they suited the unique challenges faced and would deliver the outcomes for children that was desired.


The MTFS showed that the proposed development of an Assessment Centre had been dropped from future plans. Mr Coyle explained in reply to a query from members regarding the reason for this, that it had been determined that the impact of such a centre would not deliver the outcomes hoped for and that other schemes and improvements to existing practices were in place to achieve better results.


Proposals in the MTFS to reduce the number of Section 47 enquires, placing children in residential care, being undertaken by 30% through a greater focus on interventions in a family setting were discussed. Members expressed concern that in some cases domestic abuse could prevent successful intervention in a family setting and asked how a reduction could be safely achieved. Mr Coyle responded that although domestic abuse was an issue, and Section 47’s would continue to be used where necessary, neglect posed the biggest challenge to services in Blackpool.


Placing children in residential care through Section 47’s was not considered an effective approach to addressing neglect and would not achieve positive outcomes for the child and their family. The most effective approach therefore was through targeted interventions within a family setting in cases of neglect. Ms Gent added that the “Blackpool Families Rock” practice model had proven that this was the approach which delivered the best outcomes for children.


It was also stated that work to develop Family Safeguarding, whereby partners would wrap services around a family was under consideration. Ms Gent confirmed that if a proposal was developed from this work that a report could be provided to a future meeting of the Committee.


Mr Coyle also provided details of issues relating to the stability of foster placements to the Committee. He explained that for a placement to be considered stable, a child would have to remain in one for two or more years. The national average of stable placements was 70%, whereas in Blackpool the level was 50%. It was stated that instability was often caused by the complex needs of a child being placed. Although the current level was an improvement on previous years, work was still needed to improve and it was expected that Blackpool could meet the national average, if improvement continued, in approximately two years.


The Committee raised the possibility of exploring different deliver model for Children’s care homes in Blackpool to allow greater Council control over children’s care rather than reliance on private sector providers. Ms Gent responded although they were aware of proposals to do this, that due to ongoing high demand and the improvement work taking place that it was not feasible to make such a substantial change to the operation of Children’s Homes currently. Councillor Jim Hobson, Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Care and Schools, added that once the Council was further progressed along the improvement journey then the proposal could be given further consideration, noting that issue was included on the Committee Work Plan.


The Committee agreed:


  1. That the Medium Term Financial Strategy for Children’s Services be noted;
  2. That data on the levels of look after children from 2019 to 2023 be provided for information; and
  3. If developed that proposals for a Family Safeguarding approach be brought to a future meeting of the Committee.

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