Agenda Item No. 8

The Vale of Glamorgan Council


Scrutiny Committee (Social Care and Health): 16th June, 2014


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 2013/14.

2.         To provide Scrutiny Committee with an overview of the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales Annual Inspection 2013/14 and the Review of Quality of Care Report for 2013/14 produced by the Council.


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.


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 February and March and the inspection report is attached at Appendix 1.

6.         Under Regulation 42, there is a requirement to complete an Annual Review of the Quality of Care provided by the Fostering Service.  The Review report follows a format prescribed by CSSIW.  The report for 2013/14 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 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 covers the period from 1st April 2013 to 31st March 2014 and identifies 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.

12.      To ensure that at least six additional foster carers are approved each year, we needed to establish a dedicated capacity for recruitment, training and assessment within the Fostering Service.  At a time of significant resource pressures, this capacity could not be found within the existing staffing complement.  Through the Social Services Budget Programme, an invest-to-save business case was developed to request funding from the Corporate Project Fund in order to provide the additional capacity required.

13.      The Recruitment Strategy identified the need to employ an additional Qualified Social Worker on a fixed term contract to act as a Recruitment Officer.  There is provision built in for marketing costs and the funding of assessments by independent social workers.

Relevant Issues and Options

Foster Carer Recruitment Strategy 2013/14 and Review of the Quality of Care 2013/14 (Regulation 42)

14.      The Fostering Service has been working hard to complete the actions set out in the Recruitment Strategy and, through secondment of an experienced social worker from within the Placements and Permanency Team, a Recruitment Officer was appointed in July 2013.

15.      Beginning with Foster Carer Fortnight in May 2013, we have worked closely with Corporate Communications to increase advertising activity, including radio interviews, newspaper features and distribution of new leaflets and posters. We have implemented the fostering recruitment best practice guide produced by the South East Wales Improvement Collaborative (SEWIC) and we are closely monitoring our performance against these standards.

16.      From 1st April 2013 to 31st March 2014, we have received 92 registrations of interest. This is a 61% increase on the total figure for last year (57).  We have increased our initial visits to prospective applicants from 31 during 2012/13 to 49 for 2013/14.

17.      We have provided regular pre-approval training for prospective applicants, with 35 people attending since April 2013 and we have received 30 applications for assessment. We have assessed and approved eight new mainstream foster carers during the year. This has exceeded our recruitment strategy target of six and is the same as last year's figure. It is expected that the increase in fostering applications received during 2013/14 will see benefits in terms of overall numbers of approvals in 2014/15 with 13 assessments already underway.

18.      There has been a decrease in the number of de-registrations and resignations in 2013/14 (17) compared to 2012/13 (18).  There were 11 de-registrations of kinship carers, 6 of which were a result of the carers obtaining a Special Guardianship Order for the young people placed.  The other four kinship de-registrations occurred because the placement was no longer required and one was caused by bereavement.  There were six de-registrations/resignations of mainstream foster carers during 2013/14:  Two resigned following an investigation of a complaint or allegation; one as a result of bereavement; one had their previous looked after child continuing to live with them as an adult and could no longer offer a placement, one moved to another agency and one because their circumstances had changed and they no longer wanted to foster.  The number of de-registrations varied little from the seven that took place in 2012/13.  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.

19.      There has also been a reduction in the number of children placed with IIFAs from 30 during 2012/2013 to 28 during 2013/14.  The reduction in the use of IFAs remains a priority for 2014/15.

20.      To ensure we are meeting need and maximising our capacity, 12 extensions and exemptions were agreed during 2013/14, this is an increase of seven 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.

21.      The Fostering Service has delivered a 4.7% increase in the number of foster carer reviews conducted.  At 31/03/14, 98.7% of foster carers had up to date Annual Reviews/approvals, compared to 94% in 2012/13 and 84% in 2011/12.  Completion of Annual Reviews within timescales remains a priority for the team. 

22.      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. 

23.      Work has started with the Corporate Communications Team to plan recruitment activity for 2014/15.  With support from Visible Services advertising has been placed on roundabouts in Barry. We hope to extend this to other areas of the Vale of Glamorgan and possibly to some Council vehicles.  Targeting Foster Carer Fortnight in May 2014, plans have been made to advertise in Vale of Glamorgan bus stops and train stations. In addition, we are working with the Learning and Skills Directorate to facilitate networking through schools. We plan to take part in a number of local events this year and provide the media with newsworthy stories and features.

24.      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 through a regional marketing centre.  A report will be presented to Cabinet in June seeking in principle agreement for the Vale to work with other local authorities in the area in developing the business case for a marketing centre.

CSSIW Annual Inspection of the Fostering Service

25.      At the time of the Inspection in February 2014, the Fostering Service was supporting 52 mainstream and 21 relative foster carers (kinship), providing placements for 104 Looked After Children. 

26.      At the same time, 184 children and young people were Looked After by the Council.

27.      The Inspectors concluded that the Fostering Service:

is effectively managed;

is child centred;

has good systems for consultation;

provides good support and guidance to foster carers; and

has good systems to inform placement making and matching.

28.      A number of improvements made since the 2013 Inspection were validated.  These include the new revised foster carer handbook and a new outcome based foster placement agreement (for placement making and matching and monitoring the goals for children throughout the placement).

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

30.      The first relates to closer monitoring of the educational attainment, progress and school attendance of children placed with our foster carers. Previously, we have closely monitored the educational attainment/progress of all Looked After Children and reported on these collective outcomes.  The Inspectorate would like us to keep separate records and differentiate between children placed with our own in-house carers. This action is underway and the Learning and Skills Directorate will in future provide us with separate monitoring figures for children placed with in-house foster carers.

31.      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 usual 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 is now in place with dedicated training sessions in the evenings and weekends for those carers who may work during the day.

32.      The final area does not relate directly to the Fostering Service but relates to recording of statutory visits by child care social workers. It was identified that, in one case, the narrative report of a statutory visit by a social worker was not recorded within timescales. We will be auditing all statutory visits to ensure compliance with our recording policy.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

33.      Scrutiny Committee will be aware that an 'invest to save' business case was presented with the Recruitment Strategy in March 2013 and subsequently received corporate approval.

34.      For 2013/14 the 'invest-to-save' business case allowed Children and Young People Services to draw down £41k. Reassessment of spend for 2013/14 meant we did not require this amount. This was due to delays in appointing the recruitment officer and costs in relation to marketing and assessment being less than anticipated. Costs incurred during 2013/14 were contained within the overall Social Services budget. From 2014/15, it is intended that funding of the Recruitment Strategy will be met by reducing our reliance on independent fostering placements.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

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

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

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

Crime and Disorder Implications

37.      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)

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

Corporate/Service Objectives

39.      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

40.      This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

41.      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 is routinely updated on service developments.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

42.      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

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