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Agenda Item No. 9

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Social Care and Health): 15th June, 2015

 

Report of the Director of Social Services

 

Vale of Glamorgan Council Fostering Service

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To update Scrutiny Committee on implementation of the Foster Carer Recruitment Strategy 2014/15.

2.         To provide Scrutiny Committee with an overview of the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) Annual Inspection 2014/15 and the Review of Quality of Care Report for 2014/15 produced by the Council.

Recommendations

That Scrutiny Committee:

 

1.         Notes the progress made to date in implementing the Foster Carer Recruitment Strategy.

2.         Notes the content of the Quality of Care Report and the positive findings of the CSSIW Annual Inspection.

Reason for the Recommendations

1. & 2.To enable Scrutiny Committee to exercise oversight of this key activity within

Children and Young People Services and to assure Scrutiny Committee that the Council's statutory functions in relation to providing a Regulated Fostering Service are fully met in accordance with legislation and guidance.

Background

3.         Where children and young people are unable to live within their own families, the Vale of Glamorgan Council aims to provide high quality alternative family placements which will promote the child's well-being and development.  This is achieved primarily by using approved in-house foster carers.

4.         The Vale of Glamorgan Fostering Service is provided by the Placements and Permanency Team.  It is responsible for recruiting, assessing, preparing, training and supporting mainstream and relative (or 'kinship') foster carers in the Vale.  Mainstream foster carers are those who provide placements for any child subject to their age approval criteria, whereas relative foster carers have been approved specifically for a named child or children.

5.         Under the provisions of the Care Standards Act 2000 and associated Regulations, the Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales (CSSIW) undertakes an annual inspection of local authorities which provide a fostering service.  The inspection for the Vale of Glamorgan took place during January 2015 and the inspection report is attached at Appendix 1.

6.         Under Regulation 42, there is also a requirement on each local authority to complete an Annual Review of the Quality of Care provided by its Fostering Service.  The Review report follows a format prescribed by CSSIW.  The report for 2014/15 is attached at Appendix 2.

7.         The Children and Young People Services Commissioning Strategy 2013 -18 identifies that, where children and young people cannot be supported to remain with their birth families, they will be placed with foster carers within the Vale of Glamorgan.  Where demand for placements exceeds that available within the Council service, placements are procured from Independent Fostering Agencies (IFAs) at significant additional cost and sometimes at some distance from the area.  A key priority for the Division is to recruit additional in-house carers in order to reduce reliance on unnecessary IFA placements and to reduce the costs associated with providing services to Looked After Children.

8.         A Fostering Service Recruitment Strategy was developed and presented to Scrutiny Committee in March 2013.  The Strategy identified four key recruitment priorities for the year:

·         Placements for young people aged 11-16 years who present challenging and often aggressive behaviour, who may be non-school attendees and who may have difficulties with alcohol and substance misuse.

·         Foster carers able to provide placements for sibling groups of two or more children.

·         Respite/short breaks placements to support children to remain living at home.

·         Foster carers who are willing to make a commitment to provide accommodation for young people for as long as they may require it.

9.         To achieve these priorities, we aimed to:

·         increase enquiry rates to the service to 100 per year, using local and regional advertising campaigns;

·         increase the enquiries to assessments conversion rate by 15%;

·         increase the number of carers offering placements for sibling groups by a minimum of two per year;

·         increase the number of carers offering teenage placements by a minimum of two per year;

·         increase the number of carers offering respite/short breaks placements by a minimum of two per year; and

·         reduce the demand for IFA placements by 25%.

10.      The Strategy set out the planned recruitment campaign.  This included the use of publicity, the media, advertising, presence at community events and ensuring timely and consistent responses to all enquirers.

11.      Publicity and advertising is the critical first step in the process of recruiting more foster carers.  However, it is just one step and needs to be followed by robust and timely initial screening assessments, access to appropriate training for prospective carers, progression through to full assessment and presentation to Fostering Panel for approval.

Relevant Issues and Options

Foster Carer Recruitment Strategy 2014/15 and Review of the Quality of Care 2014/15 (Regulation 42)

12.      The Fostering Service has been working hard to complete the actions set out in the Recruitment Strategy and CSSIW's inspection report from 2013/14.  It has been a difficult year for the Fostering Service with staff sickness being a particular issue and temporary arrangements  in respect of the team manager post taking longer to resolve while the Vale, Valleys and Cardiff Regional Adoption Collaborative was being developed.

13.      Our advertising activity during the year was not as robust as the previous year and there has been a national decline in the number of initial enquiries experienced by all fostering services during the year.  From 1st April 2014 to 31st March 2015, we have received 56 registrations of interest.  This is a 38% decrease on the total figure for last year (91).  Consequently, our initial visits to prospective applicants have been fewer too, reducing from 49 during 2013/14 to 32 for 2014/15.  We have addressed the drop in initial enquiry figures by developing a new advertising and marketing plan which has been implemented.  This will see an increase in local and regional advertising, media events and a new design of our website.

14.      We have sought to maximise good outcomes from the level of interest received.  Regular pre-approval training has been provided for prospective applicants, with 25 people attending since April 2014, and we have received eleven applications for assessment.  We have assessed and approved nine new mainstream foster carers during the year.  This has exceeded our recruitment strategy minimum target of six and it is an increase on last year's figure of eight.

15.      There has been a decrease in the number of de-registrations and resignations in 2014/15 (9) compared to 2013/14 (17).  There were three de-registrations of kinship carers: one was a result of the carers obtaining a Special Guardianship Order for the young person placed; one was due to the placement no longer being required; and one was due to ill health.  There were six de-registrations/resignations of mainstream foster carers during 2014/15:  Two resigned following an investigation of a complaint or allegation; one had their previous Looked After Child continuing to live with them as an adult and could no longer offer a placement; two retired and one resigned because their circumstances had changed and they no longer wanted to foster.  The number of de-registrations varied little from the six that took place in 2013/14.  The reasons for de-registrations remain similar from year to year and the data shows a very high level of stability and retention in respect of mainstream (non-kinship) carers.

16.      Whilst some children have moved from Independent Fostering Agency (IFA) placements, there has been no change in the overall number of children placed) during 2014/2015, with the number remaining at 28.  Enabling children and young people to move on from Independent Fostering Agency (IFA) placements appropriately at the same time as reducing our need to place with Independent Fostering Agencies remains a priority for 2015/16.

17.      To ensure we are meeting need and maximising our capacity, 13 extensions and exemptions were agreed during 2014/15; this is an increase of one compared to last year.  Exemptions are placements made outside the approval status set by Panel and they are used mainly for teenagers (where there is still considerable pressure on placement availability) and to keep siblings placed together.

18.      The Fostering Service has delivered 66 foster carer annual reviews from the 75 that were due in the year (i.e. 88%).  As of 7 May this year, 88.5% of foster carers have up to date Annual Reviews/approvals.  Completion of Annual Reviews within timescales remains a priority for the team. 

19.      Analysis of our recruitment activity and its impact will inform how the Fostering Service and Corporate Communications implement the future rolling programme of campaign activity. 

20.      Work has been undertaken with the Corporate Communications Team to plan recruitment activity for 2015/16.  We have recently updated our website, making it more informative and user-friendly. We have secured a year-long advertising deal with three local Tesco stores which will see billboards outside the stores and our leaflets inside the stores.  Targeting Foster Carer Fortnight in June 2015, plans have been made to advertise on Vale of Glamorgan bus stops and roundabouts.  In addition, we have secured advertising in local play areas, playgroups and restaurants.  We plan to take part in a number of local events this year and provide the media with newsworthy stories and features.

21.      The Recruitment Strategy is critical to increasing the numbers of foster carers in the Vale of Glamorgan.  The Council is also engaged in the regional work being undertaken by the South East Wales Improvement Collaborative (SEWIC).  This is focusing specifically on proposals for developing more wide-ranging advertising, recruitment and training opportunities.

CSSIW Annual Inspection of the Fostering Service

22.      At the time of the Inspection in January 2015, the Fostering Service was supporting 55 mainstream and 21 relative foster carers (kinship), providing placements for 104 Looked After Children.  At the same time, 181 children and young people were Looked After by the Council.

23.      The Inspectors concluded that the Fostering Service:

-         is effectively managed;

-         is child centred;

-         has good systems for consultation and quality assurance

-         provides good support and guidance to foster carers; and

-         Is responsive to addressing issues raised by inspections or audits.

24.      A number of improvements made since the 2014 Inspection were validated.  These include the development of a policy on foster carer's who are also childminders, monitoring the educational attainment of children placed with foster carers and a focus on safeguarding training for foster carers.  

25.      The Inspectors identified two areas of compliance and improvement.  These were seen as isolated breaches and not representative of our Fostering Service as a whole.

26.      The first relates to one foster carer whose DBS check had expired before a new one had been processed.  Foster carers are subject to DBS checks on a three yearly basis; a monitoring system is in place to ensure renewals are applied for before checks expire.

27.      The second area relates to ensuring joint carers both receive regular ongoing refresher training.  Where there are joint applications to become foster carers (e.g. husband and wife), both receive 'Skills to Foster' and induction training.  Following their approval, it is usually the case that one carer becomes the main carer and attends the majority of professional development training.  However, we need to ensure that all carers receive at least the minimum amount of training.  This has been an ongoing issue and one where we have made considerable progress. We have now developed e-learning training and evening training for those carers who may work during the day.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

28.      Costs incurred during 2014/15 were contained within the overall Children and Young People Services budget.  As part of the Social Services Budget Programme, annual savings targets have been set for the service at £34k in 2014/15 and £76k per annum for 2015/16 and 2016/17, totalling £176k over 3 year period.  These savings will be found by reducing our reliance on Independent Fostering Agency (IFA) placements.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

29.      Local placements for children reduce the need for long journeys by families and social workers.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

30.      The provision of a quality Fostering Service is mandated by legislation, regulation and guidance.

Crime and Disorder Implications

31.      Some children who are Looked After can be engaged in criminal behaviour.  Ensuring a suitable range of placements assists in enabling us to match children to the most appropriate placement.  A representative of the Youth Offending Service attends the Placement Panel to ensure full consideration of a child's needs in this area and to maximise opportunities for joint working.  

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

32.      Placing children locally in families helps to increase our ability to cater for their cultural and linguistic needs.

Corporate/Service Objectives

33.      The actions set out in this report help the Directorate to help achieve the following corporate and service objections:

-         Children and young people are engaged and supported to take full advantage of life opportunities in their community and beyond - Corporate Plan Outcome 2013-17.

-         The Vale of Glamorgan achieves good outcomes for service users and carers through its arrangements to protect vulnerable people and success in promoting independence and social inclusion - Social Services Directorate Service Plan 2013-17.

-         To provide and commission a flexible and affordable range of high quality placements - Children and Young People Services Commissioning Strategy 2013-18.

Policy Framework and Budget

34.      This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

35.      The provision of a quality Fostering Service is a Council-wide responsibility and there are no matters in this report relating specifically to any individual Ward.  The Cabinet Member for Children's Services and Schools is routinely updated on service developments.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

36.      Social Care and Health

Background Papers

Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee: 11.03.13 - The Council's In-House Fostering Service

Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee: 15.07.13 - The Council's In-House Fostering Service

Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee: 16.06.14 - The Council's In-House Fostering Service

Contact Officer

Karen Conway, Operational Manager, Children and Young People Services

Officers Consulted

Placements and Permanency Team

Head of Children and Young People Services

Corporate Management Team

Responsible Officer

Philip Evans, Director of Social Services