Agenda Item No. 5

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

LEARNING AND CULTURE SCRUTINY COMMITTEE: 18TH SEPTEMBER, 2018

 

REFERENCE FROM HEALTHY LIVING AND SOCIAL CARE SCRUTINY COMMITTEE: 11TH SEPTEMBER, 2018

 

 

“           CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE SERVICES – ANNUAL PLACEMENT REVIEW (DSS) –

 

The Head of Children and Young People Services presented the Annual Placement Review, the purpose of which was to outline actions taken during 2017/18 with regard to placement provision for looked after children.  The report also outlined priority actions for 2018/19.  For this item, the Committee also welcomed the Operational Manager whose responsibilities included the children looked after team and the provision of placements.

 

Resource management in children's social care is inherently challenging.  This is particularly the case in the area of children's placements.  Local Authorities face considerable difficulties in managing fluctuating numbers of children looked after populations, finding appropriate placements for them, ensuring children's support needs are met while using placement resources effectively.  The number of children with complex needs is increasing.  Meeting needs in appropriate placements places pressure on budgets.  This cohort of children includes those with challenging and complex behaviour and those who are disabled.  Some individual placements are also expensive.  The costs of placements for children with complex needs can exceed £250k a year.

 

The Operational Manager was then asked to provide an overview of the annual review report which was attached at Appendix 1.

 

The Operational Manager outlined that there were a number of outside influences. 

 

The first related to children with complex needs and she advised that in common with other Local Authorities, the Vale of Glamorgan had experienced an increase in the number of children with complex needs which had resulted in rising costs and a continuing pressure on the budget.  Children and young people with challenging and complex behaviours often could not be maintained within foster placements and required admission to residential care.  Placements of this type could cost in the region of £250,000 a year. 

 

The second external influence was the Welsh Governments “When I Am Ready” scheme which aims to promote better support by extending a young person’s transition to adulthood within a supportive family and household environment.  Young people were now able to remain with their foster carer beyond the age of 18 until their 21st birthday, or until they felt able to leave for independent living before that age.  The scheme was implemented in April 2016 and as of 31st March, 2017 the Council had 14 young people in “When I Am Ready” placements with a potential further 5 identified for this financial year.  The Committee was advised that this scheme would continue to have an impact upon the Fostering Service as children remained in placements for longer and there was a need to recruit and retain foster carers.

 

The third external influence was remand placements, which were linked to the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.  This meant that Local Authorities became responsible for the costs of young people under the age of 18 who had been remanded into Youth Offending institutions, Secure Children’s Homes and Secure Training Centres.  The costs of a remand placement were £158 per night for a Youth Offending institution, £561 per night for a Secure Children’s Home and £533 per night for a Secure Training Centre. 

 

Moving on, the Operational Manager referred to the current placement profile which showed the number and nature of placements on a quarterly basis during 2017/18.  With regard to placements with Friends and Family Foster Care (also known as Kinship Care), Members were advised there had been a significant increase in kinship care from 93 in March 2017 to 110 in March 2018 and 120 in July 2018.  These were arrangements involving the placement of a child looked after subject to an Order from the Court with family and friends, where the arrangement required the assessment and approval of these carers as foster carers.

 

Placements with parents referred to circumstances where a child looked after subject of a Care Order was placed with one or both parents with a degree of delegation of parental responsibility for decisions about the day to day care of that child, whilst parental responsibility was shared with the Local Authority.  There had been an increase in placement with parent arrangements, from 36 in March 2017, to 45 in March 2018, to 48 in June 2018. 

 

With regard to the overall children looked after population, the Operational Manager outlined that similar to local authorities in Wales, there had been an increased, with 224 during March 2017 to 249 in June 2018.

 

With regard to the number of children requiring residential care, the Operational Manager advised that this remained stable during 2017/18 with on average 13 children requiring this type of provision during the year.  It was reported that this level of usage of residential care reflected the success within the Service in reducing the numbers in residential care from 23 in March 2014 to 13 in March 2018.  In addition, the Committee noted there had been an increase in the number of young people remanded via criminal proceedings during the last quarter of 2017/18 and the first quarter of 2018/19.  Within this cohort there was a young person who had been subject to Secure Order for the past nine months and was placed in a specialist unit costing £9,065 per week.

 

The Committee was then provided with an overview of three case studies to illustrate the type and level of need that required a residential placement.  The first related to a young person with complex needs who had become looked after in May 2016.  The young person’s behaviour had become extremely challenging which resulted in him being excluded from school.  This young person was now placed in a specialist residential school out of area at a cost of £213,000 per year.  This had 3 months and with further concerns regarding his behaviour and the risks he posed to himself the others, the Local Authority applied for a Secure Order.  This person was now placed in a specialist secure unit costing £471,380 per year.

 

In commenting on the use of secure placements, the Head of Children and Young People Services advised that there were two aspects in relation to these; one where a young person could be placed in secure accommodation via the Court for criminal behaviour and the other where an Order is sought linked to the needs of a young people on welfare grounds. The associated costs of these individual placements challenge the resource constraints of all local authorities.  The Committee was reassured that secure settings were not used lightly and the focus would remain on how and when a young person could be appropriately ‘stepped down’ to a non-secure setting.

 

Moving on to the placement budget, the Operational Manager advised that the budget for children looked after for 2017/18 was overspent by £560,000. 

 

The Committee noted that pages 10 to 13 of the appendix detailed a number of initiatives implemented to address key issues.  These included: 

  • An Audit of external placements
  • Implementation of the Foster Carer Recruitment Strategy
  • Establishment of Joint Budgets
  • Revocation of Care Orders and increase use of Special Guardianship Orders with kinship carers

Page 14 illustrated opportunities that had been identified in order to manage risks and issues: 

  • To reduce the use of independent fostering agencies which would include a target of eight newly recruited foster carers and a reduction of two independent foster placements for 2018/19.
  • Minimise movement into residential care – limit the numbers coming in and the length of stay.
  • Utilise local residential provision to return children looked after to local lower cost residential placements where possible.
  • Continue to address the overall children looked after population with a focus on the increase of kinship placements, through the use of revocation of Care Orders and preventative services.
  • Work in partnership with Health to offer increased therapeutic support to children looked after and foster carers to promote placement stability and prevent placements breaking down and lending to more costly placements.
  • Development of the service structure to include a specific team for Children Looked After.

A Committee Member commented that it appeared that there was a need for more specialist foster carers to support the more complex cases.  In reply, the Operational Manager stated that the Service was constantly working to recruit foster carers to meet the needs of our children looked after.  The therapeutic fostering service would support the Service to develop skills within its cohort of foster carers, and also to consider the development of specialist foster carers to meet the needs of children with more complex needs. For this, a training programme had been rolled out in order for foster carers to provide more therapeutic care.  Parent and child placements were also highlighted as an area where dedicated recruitment was being considered.

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the contents of the report be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the Committee continues to receive regular updates through existing reporting arrangements, including the monthly Budget Programme report and update reports on the Corporate Strategy for Children in Need of Care and Support and also through the Foster Carer Recruitment Strategy.

 

(3)       T H A T a further Annual Placement Review report be received in July 2019.

 

(4)       T H A T the report be referred to the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee for its consideration.

 

Reason for recommendations

 

(1-4)    In order to allow Members to have opportunity to exercise oversight of this key statutory function.