For the Select Committee to pre-scrutinise the annual safeguarding report for Children’s Services before consideration by Cabinet.
The Committee received the Annual Safeguarding Report – Children’s Services 2019/20 (Item 7 in the Minute Book) for pre-scrutiny before being presented to Cabinet on the 24 November, from representatives of the Director of Children’s Services. A presentation also accompanied the report.
The item was introduced, and it was explained that the annual report sought to provide assurance of safeguarding activity to Members and the response to this in Hampshire. The presentation highlighted key aspects of the report which included the recent Ofsted judged ‘Outstanding’ inspection of Children’s Services, with safeguarding being a key aspect of the inspection. It was heard that Children’s Services continue to improve and develop services, and its response to safeguarding issues for vulnerable children. Key developments included the response to Covid-19, and the three phased approach to this was set out on page 6 of the presentation slides.
The issue of child exploitation was explained and the many elements which encompassed this. Members attention was drawn to ‘County lines’, and it was heard that there had been an increase in this activity in Hampshire, as well as nationally, and a specialist social work team and specialist police team continued to work hard to disrupt this activity and to safeguard children, but this remained an area of significant concern. The national and local issue of missing children was also highlighted, and Members noted that the numbers of children going missing has reduced and positive progress has been seen in this area. In relation to Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC), it was explained that Hampshire has been a supporter of the National Transfer Scheme and this was detailed further, as well as the Home Office national consultation of the future of the scheme, and Hampshire’s response to this.
Members heard further about performance and activity levels, and page 11 of the presentation slides showed the yearly numbers of social work assessments, with the timeliness of these being undertaken and completed at 92%. This was above the regional average level and compared strong nationally. It was heard that whilst the number of children on child protection plans had reduced annually, these numbers as well as the numbers of children coming in care had started to increase since April as a result of Covid-19 lockdown, which reflected the extra pressure and vulnerabilities experienced by families. Officers were confident that this should reduce going forward with strong social work and multi-agency practices. Page 12 of the presentation slides highlighted the Quality Assurance Framework, and the work to ensure quality standards were maintained was noted.
Local developments around recruitment and sector led improvement were presented, and in relation to the recruitment of social workers it was heard that the Hampshire vacancy rates were currently 13% compared to the national figure of 20%. The support given to newly recruited social workers in Hampshire was also explained. Members also noted the work of Hampshire’s Children’s Services as a ‘Partner in Practice’. Page 15 of the presentation slides explained further the Transformation programme for children’s social care, which aimed to keep more children at home where safe and appropriate to do so. The number of elements of change that had been created were highlighted, as well as the movement into Phase 2 of the programme with a focus on continuous improvement to support families. Another local programme was the ‘Modernising Placements’ programme, and the objectives to the programme were explained and set out on page 17 of the presentation slides. In concluding the presentation, the challenges facing Hampshire Children’s Services were set out and it was heard that these would continue to be a key area of focus over the coming years.
In response to questions, Members heard:
· That currently no under-16 year olds were in un-regulated placements in Hampshire, but legislation does allow for this, and any cases of under-16 un-regulated placements in Hampshire would have to be approved by the Assistant Director and by exception. Whilst not regulated by Ofsted, these placements would be subject to regulation by Hampshire Children’s Services. Un-regulated provision for post-16 children could include supported lodgings and hostel type accommodation, and there was a quality assured framework around these.
· That wherever the first footfall of an UASC was, it was the legal responsibility of that relevant local authority to care for that child, and they would become a looked after child of that Authority. Social workers would work closely with border forces and other professionals to also best determine the age of the child.
· That care, cultural and educational needs of UASC’s would be undertaken and supported, and extra tuition in English if needed.
· That in relation to a Member question about the Council’s Corporate Parenting Board, it was heard that the Board had a quality assurance function to hold officers and partners to account, and to task officers to respond to feedback from children and young people.
· That Hampshire Children’s Services engage with other local authorities and the police in relation to missing vulnerable children from the Hampshire area, and it was noted that most children were identified quickly and back safely within a few hours.
Members thanked Officers for all the hard work undertaken and for compiling the very thorough report.
That the Children and Young People Select Committee noted and supported the recommendations being proposed to Cabinet in the attached report.