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Agenda item

Multi-Agency Support Teams (MAST) - Update

Report of the Executive Director, People Services



The Committee received a report of the Executive Director, People Services, providing an update on the Multi-Agency Support Teams (MAST).




In attendance for this item were Councillor Jackie Drayton (Cabinet Member for Children and Families) and Helen Sweaton (Assistant Director, Prevention and Early Services, Children and Families).




Helen Sweaton introduced the report, which contained information on the role of the MAST, the strengths of, and positive work undertaken by, the MAST, the challenges facing the MAST, the Early Help Review and the work undertaken by the MAST during the Covid-19 pandemic.




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




·            The reason why there were not enough case holding workers to undertake the key worker role for families was not because Prevention and Early Services had reduced the number of such workers, but that the number the Service believed was needed had increased.  The Service was still working with the same number of families, but was aware that there were more families that it wished it could provide similar levels of support for.  One reason for this was that the Service had spent the last two years working very closely with  schools in order to identify those children who needed support at the earliest opportunity, in line with the Inclusion Strategy.  A number of officers had not been key working with families, but had mainly been working with other professionals to help upskill them to intervene earlier, resulting in the Service having a group of professionals who had not undertaken the role of a key work for some of the city’s most complex families.  There were around 470 staff in the early help review, with around 250 undertaking the role of key worker, and it was hoped that this number could be increased in the future.




·            The Service worked very closely with South Yorkshire Police and the Council's Community Youth Teams to address any safeguarding concerns regarding vulnerable young people.  The Service had undertaken considerable safeguarding work in local communities, particularly with regard to extra familial harm, a specific concern which had been identified.  The Amber Project had been established as part of the contextualised safeguarding strategy, which involved officers working with, and visiting, schools to discuss any specific concerns.  Where children had been identified to be at specific risk, even where the risk was not within the household, this would be escalated, which included referral to the Safeguarding Hub and discussions with South Yorkshire Police.




·            Whilst people applying to be a key worker were asked for proof of relevant qualifications, previous experience was also taken into consideration, such as working in the voluntary sector, the local community or schools.  Therefore, the approach to qualifications was relatively flexible, with applicants more likely being required to have basic skills, specifically regarding communication and IT.




·            The Service held monthly supervision for all workers, including personal supervision, and for key workers, this included case supervision.  The key workers had relatively high caseloads in that they worked with 12 families which could, in some cases, include more than one child in each family.




·            Where possible, key workers would be assigned to a family until closure, a period which usually equated to between three and six months.  Every attempt was made to assign the same worker to a family during this period.




·            Retaining key workers had proved to be a challenge, but in a positive way, in that the low level entry requirements had resulted in a high number of applicants, with a number going on to achieve other qualifications, and undertaking other roles, some within the Council.  A very low number of key workers moved to other local authorities.  The Service provided a lot of staff development opportunities, which many used to progress other roles.  This, however, created a challenge in terms of continuity.




·            The funding received for the MAST Service was not a one-off allocation, therefore would roll over to the 2021/22 financial year.  To manage the additional demand as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and to enable the recruitment of the additional 22 posts, the Service required specific funding from the Covid Relief Fund, which spanned over the two years, resulting in there being no problems during 2021/22.  Whilst staff turnover in the Service meant that it was likely that the 22 workers would progress and leave the Service during the period, so that the Service could manage without the additional funding in 2022/23, this would mean the additional 22 posts would be lost.




·            Details of the £2.5 million funding for Children’s Services, including whether the funding of the additional 22 posts would come out of this, would be circulated to Members of the Committee.




·            Family centres had provided an excellent facility during the pandemic, both with regard to online services and through normal access, where possible.  The centres had worked hard to keep the parenting groups running, and providing support for families.  Prior to the pandemic, the centres had provided advice and support for younger people regarding sexual health problems.  The long-term plan was to move the online offer across the 0-19 age range back into delivery, when access to the family centres was reopened.  The MAST Service has always worked very closely with the family centres, providing an offer up to the age of 19, and 25 for people with special educational needs, from the centres.  There had been a gap in service in terms of the youth offer as this service had its own buildings, therefore was less likely to operate from the family centres.




·            In terms of the review of early help services, the issue regarding the lack of data from health creating barriers, particularly for early years, and the fact that the data was not being used for effective predictive analysis, was work in progress for the Service.  Some areas of work had actually been improved during the pandemic, such as information-sharing.  The Service was trying to create a system which would pull all the various services together, such as having different data sets all on one system, which would be a big help for staff.  The Service had increased its robustness in terms of screening, whereby workers, following referrals, were now able to view information from different areas all in one system.




·            The Service had looked at the accommodation where MAST could be based so that they were able to meet the needs of specific localities.  Whilst there were benefits to being based in a locality, such as making home visits, the administrative functions could be undertaken at home, or from a school or a community building. Therefore, the Service was less restricted, and it stopped the need to keep having to look where MAST could be physically located.




·            The main reason for the delays in children and families receiving support from MAST was a lack of capacity within the Service.  The Service was aware of more children and families needing support, and needing such support earlier, but there was limited capacity in terms of the key worker role.  Some families have been forced to wait three months or more to be assigned a key worker.




RESOLVED: That the Committee:-




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




(b)      thanks Councillor Jackie Drayton and Helen Sweaton for attending the meeting, and responding to the questions raised; and




(c)      requests that the Committee be involved in the review of early help services.



Supporting documents: