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Agenda item

Children's Social Care Improvement and Recovery Plans

Report of the Executive Director, People Services



The Committee received a joint report of the Executive Director, People Services, and the Executive Director, Resources, providing a financial outlook for both Adult and Children’s Social Care in Sheffield against the budget available over the period of the medium-term financial strategy (up to five years) and attaching, as appendices, Improvement and Recovery plans for both Children’s Services and Adult Social Care.  The joint report had been submitted to the Cabinet at its meeting held on 20th September 2017.




In attendance for this item were Councillor Jackie Drayton (Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families) and Carly Speechley (Director of Children and Families). 




Carly Speechley introduced the report, indicating that there had been a number of reasons for the overspend, the two main reasons being recent funding cuts and increasing demand on services.  The increased demand on services included the referral of a further 80 children and young people to the Authority’s care, the increase in the number of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) and an increase in the number of children and young people having more complex needs.  Ms Speechley stated that in addition to this, 32 experienced social workers had left the Authority to work for other local authorities, which had led to a number of issues regarding inconsistency in performance and, over the last six months, there had been a near total change in the Children and Families Service’s Senior Leadership Team.  She referred to the various initiatives and programmes, as set out in the Improvement and Recovery Plans, focussing on the Children and Families Service, and which it was hoped would go some way to improving the current financial position.




Councillor Jackie Drayton stated that whilst the Council obviously had to be mindful of its budget position, the most important issue was ensuring that the children and young people in the care of the Authority were adequately looked after, and had a quality of life.  She stressed the importance of the Authority assisting, where possible, with regard to accepting more UASC, pointing out that Sheffield had been one of only seven authorities who had responded to the request for help from authorities in the Kent area, which had resulted in the Authority accepting a further seven children.  Councillor Drayton stated that the funding provided by the Government was never going to be sufficient, resulting in local authorities having to manage their budgets more efficiently to enable them to deal with such issues. 




Members of the Committee raised questions, and the following responses were provided:-




·             Whilst it was obviously the intention to place as many local children and young people in Sheffield, the current nature of the provision had been insufficient to meet the need locally, forcing the Service to purchase an increasing number of out of city placements, thereby further increasing the Authority’s financial pressures.  Whilst providers, working in a competitive market, were able to sell their placements to anyone, the Authority was working closely with local private providers to try to get them to prioritise places for local children and young people.  In addition to this, the Authority was also trying to identify foster carers who would accept sibling groups and older children, on the basis that  younger children were much easier to place.  A further initiative being considered was Multi Systemic Therapy, which comprised an intensive programme working with children of 11 years or older in order to reduce risk of removal from their families due to social or behavioural issues.  Through this initiative, the Authority aimed to provide alternative support to keep families together safely, and avoid the need for further long-terms placements over the next five years.




·             The loss of a number of experienced social workers over the last few years has had a very damaging effect on service provision and, in an effort to combat this problem, the Authority was still operating the ‘Grow Your Own’ scheme, via the ‘Step Up To Social Work’ scheme, funded by the Apprenticeship Levy.  The main problem, however, was the difficulty in recruiting and retaining experienced social workers. In order to deal with this, the Authority had looked at a number of measures, including reducing their caseloads and increasing the support available. These early interventions had already resulted in a number of social workers returning to Sheffield from neighbouring authorities.  At present, the Authority had 202 social workers, with 70% being three years or less qualified, therefore there was a need to shift this balance.  One way of doing this had included appointing a number of experienced agency social workers, although this obviously came at a cost. 




·             The nature of the children and young people entering the care system, which was increasingly comprising older children, with more complex needs, would require the Authority to refocus the types of interventions/resources that it had available to support such children to remain in Sheffield, whether in Council resources or private providers’ provision.  There had been an increase in such children presenting themselves as missing or having issues relating to Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), sexually harmful behaviours and/or gang activity, and whilst the numbers involved were not large, the costs involved were much bigger.  There was a need to provide more, and better, local services, including Multi Systemic Therapy.




·             The Service was focusing on improving efficiency, which included looking at its IT system, which had not been deemed effective enough, and looking at the increased use of Multi Systemic Therapy which, although costing approximately £350,000 over two years, it was hoped this would result in a reduction in the number of children and young people entering the Authority’s care, and subsequently resulting in a reduction in spend.




·             In terms of progress made with regard to the Children and Families Improvement and Recovery Plan since the submission of the report to the Cabinet on 20th September 2017, there had been a large increase in the number of foster carer enquiries, with the Service receiving around 400 enquiries so far in the 2017/18 Municipal Year, as compared to 106 enquiries in the whole of the 2016/17 Municipal Year.  Whilst the majority of projects and initiatives referred to in the Plan were currently in operation, following the required preparatory work, they were in the early stages, therefore it was difficult to report any definite improvements or changes at this stage.  The Fresh Start programme was progressing well, which involved working with expectant parents who had already had children removed, to prevent any further removals, and which should provide better outcomes through alternative support, and avoid the need for an estimated 36 long-term placements over the next five years.  The Domestic Abuse Project (previously known as Growing Futures) and other parenting support programmes were also in progress, and which were addressing parental resilience, and aimed to avoid the need for an estimated 44 long-term placements in the care system over the next five years.  A further initiative, Family Group Conferencing was also in progress, and which involved restorative practice techniques to work with families subject to early legal action or child protection plans, to reduce risk by engaging wider family and community supports.  It was hoped that this would prevent the need for a further 20 long-term placements over the next five years.  The Service was also looking at expanding this service to support families to prevent early entry into care and reunification of children back with families.  Two other initiatives involved Multi Systemic Therapy, which had been referred to earlier in the meeting, and the Reunification Programme, which involved working with children currently in care to return back to their families through identification of appropriate kinship care.  There were positive early signs in respect of all these programmes and initiatives.




·             Whilst the full details in terms of salary differences were not available, it was believed that Level 2 Social Workers could earn approximately £6,000 more elsewhere than those on a similar level in Sheffield. 




·             The costs of implementing the changes were set out in the Investment Plan, within the report now submitted.  The Authority had invested an additional £1.1 million into the Children and Families Service to deal with the issue.




·             The Director of Human Resources and Customer Services was leading on the plans to attract those experienced social workers who had left the Authority, back to Sheffield.  Several options were being considered as part of an overall recruitment package, which included the payments of benefits in kind, nine-day fortnights and more flexible working arrangements.




·             Some of the initiatives/programmes and changes in working practices had not been in place 18 months ago, and had been implemented to deal with the recent increases in the numbers of children and young people coming into the Authority’s care, together with the increasing complexity in the needs of such children and young people.  The figures in terms of how the initiatives/programmes would hopefully prevent the need for additional long-term placements, were set out in the report. 




·             The expected target in terms of recruitment was to have an approximate 50% split in terms of those social workers having three years or more experience, and those having less than three years’ experience.  This would involve, if required, the appointment of agency staff. 




·             Whilst the Authority would always prefer to place children and young people with foster carers in the City, it could not rule out recruiting foster carers from outside Sheffield.  Nottingham had a specialist unit for children and young people suffering CSE, and the Authority was looking at undertaking partnership work with that Authority. 




·             The Authority was currently responsible for the care of approximately 60 UASC.  However, due to a lack of capacity, and no likelihood of further resources being provided by the Government, the Authority was not in a position to accept any further such children.




·             The average caseload for social workers had been reduced significantly, and currently stood at 19 for those at Level 2 or above, and 13 for newly qualified staff, which was considered comparatively low.  The social workers also received support from an on-site consultant social worker, which comprised approximately two hours a month for social workers at Level 2 or above and once a fortnight for newly qualified social workers.  Whilst there wasn’t a national caseload average, such levels in Sheffield were deemed to be manageable.




·             Whilst most local authorities had their own in-house fostering agencies, which were regarded as better quality and which authorities had better control over, they were all dependent on independent fostering agencies to some extent.  Whilst some independent agencies were better than others, the Authority was looking to utilise examples of good practice in terms of the better quality agencies, as well as looking at a wider ‘wrap around’ offer that it could give to its foster carers.




·             The early results of the recruitment and retention strategy had indicated that there had been an element of shift in terms of more experienced social workers, together with a reduction in levels of turnover of staff, staff sickness levels and frequency/ regularity of supervision.




·             The time spent by social workers’ line managers in terms of supervision was deemed as time well spent, particularly in those cases when it resulted in a reduction in caseloads, thereby aiding the retention process. 




·             32 social workers at Level 2 or above had been lost to the Authority within a period of 18 months.  The departure rates had now slowed down, and due to the work undertaken as part of the recruitment and retention strategy, a number of experienced social workers had returned to Sheffield. 




·             The reference to “not significant change” in the report, regarding the need for consultation, reflected no change in fulfilling statutory responsibilities. However, it was accepted that it did represent significant change in some areas. Regular consultation took place through various governance structures, such as the Foster Carers Group and Care Leavers Union.  The Authority’s Children in Care Council undertook some excellent work in terms of trying to change the lives of those young people who had been brought up through the care system.




·             It was proposed that the funding in respect of ‘Invest to Save’ would be coming from the Council’s unearmarked reserves, with a proposal to pay back this sum over five years.  Approximately £4 million was to be invested in the various programmes and initiatives, as part of the Recovery Plan, in the long-term.




RESOLVED: That the Committee:-




(a)      notes the contents of the report now submitted, together with the responses to the questions raised;




(b)      supports the planned approach as set out in the report now submitted; and




(c)      requests the Executive Director, People Services, and Executive Director, Resources, to submit a further joint report to a meeting of this Committee to be held in September 2018, containing details on the progress made in respect of the Improvement and Recovery Plan, and setting out statistical information to enable Members to measure the progress made, further details on the recruitment and retention package offered to social workers and clarification in terms of conversations with the user groups involved.



Supporting documents: