For the Select Committee to pre-scrutinise the proposed changes to the Short Break Activities Programme before consideration by the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services and Young People.
Representatives of Children’s Services provided a report and supporting presentation regarding outcomes from the consultation and recommendations on proposed changes to the Short Break Activities Programme, due for consideration by the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services and Young People at her 11 November 2020 Decision Day. (see Item 6 in the Minute Book). The Children and Young People Select Committee was invited to scrutinise the proposals prior to the Executive Lead Member’s decision, and provide recommendations to the Executive Member about the proposals.
Members of the Committee were taken through the presentation slides which outlined key areas of the report, and the financial context of the proposals was explained, with a savings target of £696,000 for the Short Breaks Activities Programme. The context to the Service was highlighted as set out on page 4 of the presentation slides, and it was noted that specialist services provided for children with assessed social care needs were not included in the consultation. It was heard that there were currently 2,500 Gateway Card holders in Hampshire, of whom 550 attended a short break activity in 2019/20, and attendance was variable as detailed on the graph on page 5 of the presentation slides.
The consultation commenced on the 9 March and the engagement undertaken was detailed on page 6 of the presentation slides. In response to the Covid pandemic and the national lockdown, the engagement approach had to be flexed and this was explored through a variety of means which included virtual sessions, offers of telephone sessions and support to complete response forms. The consultation period was also extended by a further 6 weeks to a total of 18 weeks in response to the pandemic.
Each of the proposals were explained in more detail and set out on pages 10-18 of the presentation slides. It was explained that most of the savings would be achieved from proposal one which would reduce the overall grant, but to continue to commission short break activities according to priorities agreed with parents. The reasoning around this was explained and it was heard that in the current round, more places were purchased than anticipated, most providers rarely have a waiting list and there was, in some areas, a surplus of places. This was the least popular proposal with consultation respondents, but the opportunity to achieve savings within the budget was limited and this proposal was recommended for implementation.
The details around proposals two and three were explained to Members and in relation to proposal three, it was heard that this was not recommended for implementation because of the impact of the Covid pandemic, and within the grant round, a minimum match-funding level would not be imposed. Details around proposal four were explained, which would reduce the grant awarded to Hampshire Parent Carer Network (HPCN). It was highlighted that in reflection of the work HPCN undertake for the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG’s), the CCG’s have committed to contribute to HPCN’s grant so therefore there would be no net reduction in funding for 2021/22.
Proposals five and seven were not recommended for implementation, and it was explained that in relation to proposal seven, social care teams would periodically review instances of high update to ensure the support that families were receiving was appropriate. Officers detailed proposals six and eight which were recommended for implementation. It was heard that the two-tier Gateway Card scheme was partly in response to parents using the card to obtain concessions, but would also enable targeted provision for those who do intend to attend short break activities. This was a popular proposal for consultation respondents. The redesign of the community buddy scheme for proposal eight was explained and it was heard that this was a popular scheme where demand outstrips the supply. Details of the elements of this proposal were highlighted which included; one single organisation to recruit and coordinate, different types of buddy offer, increasing parental contributions to hourly rate and mileage, and the cessation of the scheme to 18 and 19 year olds and those not living in Hampshire. The consultation responses to each of these elements was detailed on page 17 of the presentation slides.
In response to questions, Members heard:
· The government has defined short breaks as an open access scheme for children with disabilities, and as such the Gateway Card would not be means tested and anyone could apply if they can produce the required evidence to meet the criteria.
· That the exception fund is advertised with all the children’s services grants and all providers are made aware of this fund through that means. The fund is targeted to providers and not parents.
· That activities are commissioned by way of a grant to providers rather than a contract, and as such it is difficult to predict in advance how providers will deliver using this money. It was heard that in the last grant round, providers were able to make the money go further than expected and more places were available than needed.
· That families of disabled children tend to network with each other, and this is increasingly undertaken online. It was noted that the ‘Local Offer’ is online and is well used and understood.
· The Gateway Card IT system has enabled a clearer understanding of who is accessing activities, as well as from what area, and one of the priorities around the ‘SEND Local Offer’ was to improve the use of social media to help access people who may not have engaged with the scheme in the past.
· That the mileage allowance was in relation to the buddy scheme, and was to enable the buddy to travel to the young person they are supporting.
· That through consultation engagement, some parents felt there wasn’t provision for their children with autism who didn’t have moderate learning disabilities, this view was also endorsed by the national autistic society (South Hampshire branch). Liaison would take place with HPCN to agree priorities as informed by the consultation feedback. If confirmed, this would then be included as a specific element of the next grant round.
· That there was currently a surplus of short break activity places in Hampshire, and page 24 of the report pack detailed the spend of Hampshire compared to other local authorities in relation to respite for Children with Disabilities spend.
· That due to Covid, currently there was no demand for overnight respite care because of the risk, and there was uncertainty as to demand for this in the future as Covid has been seen to have had an impact on family dynamics, and families may wish for respite to be delivered in different ways.
· That the proposal to implement the two tier Gateway Card, would enable targeted effort to build the offer and look at ways to work with partners. It was heard that many families value the Gateway Card as evidence of entitlement and proof of eligibility.
· That in relation to attracting more buddies to the buddy scheme, a variety of means would be implemented as well as working with providers and organisations and looking to have joined-up working with in-house volunteer service to expand availability.
A two minute silence was observed for Armistice Day at this point in proceedings.
· That within the last 24 hours, Government funding for vulnerable families to support with food and holiday activities in Hampshire was confirmed as £2.898 million, which would run from the 1 December 2020 until the 1 March 2021. Officers would ensure that this scheme would compliment existing schemes, and whilst this was in the infancy of planning, it was envisaged that this would be taken forward using voluntary sector contacts and groups.
The Chairman invited the Executive Lead Member to comment, and she confirmed that she had not received any emails or deputations in relation to the proposed changes, and at her last informal meeting with HPCN, they were understanding of the financial situation of the Council.
Each of the recommendations to the Executive Lead Member was voted on individually (it was confirmed that co-opted members were not eligible to vote on this item), and the Committee unanimously supported all the recommendations to the Executive Lead Member in the decision report.
That the Children and Young People Select Committee considered and unanimously supported the recommendations being proposed to the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services and Young People in the attached Decision Report.