Meeting documents

Scrutiny Children & Young People Sub-Committee
Tuesday, 13th September, 2016

Children & Young People Scrutiny Sub-Committee Minutes

Tuesday 13th September 2016
6:30 p.m.
The Council Chamber at the town hall, Katharine Street, Croydon CR0 1NX

Attendance Details


Councillors Jan Buttinger (Chair), Margaret Bird, Simon Brew, The meeting ended at 9.20pm Sean Fitzsimons, , Sherwan Chowdhury, Bernadette Khan, Andrew Rendle  and Maddie Henson


Reserve members:

Councillors Kathy Bee, Margaret Bird, Simon Brew, Pat Clouder, Humayun Kabir, Loy Prince, Manju Shahul Hameed, Andrew Stranack and David Wood



Parent Governor Representatives:

Mr James Collins
Mrs Vinoo John


Teacher Representative:

Dave Harvey

Diocesan Representatives:

Mrs Elaine Jones

Mr Leo Morrell

Also present:
Councillors Alisa Flemming and Maria Gatland
Councillors Sue Bennett and Mario Creatura, and Elaine Jones, Vinoo John and Dave Harvey.
Apologies for absence:
Apologies were received from Councillors Sue Bennett and Mario Creatura, and from Elaine Jones, Vinoo John and Dave Harvey.

Item Item/Resolution

The minutes were agreed with the following amendment: Cllr Maddie Henson was missed from the list of attendees.

RESOLVED THAT: the minutes of the meeting held on 12 January 2016 be signed as a correct record with the above amendment.


There were none.


There was none.


There was none.


The following officers were in attendance for this item:
- Barbara Peacock, Executive Director (People Department)
- Ian Lewis, Director, Children and Family Early Intervention and Children's Social Care
- Wendy Tomlinson, Acting Head of Looked after Children Services
- Cynthia Winifred, Service Deliver Manager


Officers were questioned regarding age assessments. They explained that, while the duty social worker might take a view regarding the age of applicants, the assessments were carried out by the Home Office and resulting decisions were the responsibility of the Home Office.

It was highlighted that unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) had to get a placement in two hours, while age checks could take up to 28 days. This can present a safeguarding issue in foster homes or school environments when the applicant is significantly older than he claims. Officers explained that such applicants should not be placed with young children to minimize the rise.


Officers added that while applicants in Europe undergo tests based on the size of their wrists and collarbones and the condition of their teeth, the age assessment in the UK is based on a discussion with the applicant. Lengthy and thorough assessments focus on their use of language, their communication styles, their daily routines and organizational skills, as well as information drawn from their Facebook pages. After 3-4 days, the applicants are presented with the outcome of the assessment in writing, in the presence of a Responsible Adult, and, where necessary, an interpreter speaking the applicant's language and dialect. Officers acknowledged that this was an expensive process, due to costly legal challenges.


Officers stated that most UASC presented at the age of 16-17 and were distributed around London. Those who present at the age of 15 or under are looked after by Croydon Council.


Members sought more information on the placement of unaccompanied asylum seeking care leavers in suitable accommodation. Officers explained that, under the Leaving Care Act, the council remained responsible for care leavers who had exhausted their right of appeal and identified placements for them in other parts of the country. It was observed that children who had lost their right of appeal were at greatest risk of being trafficked. In the year 2015-2016, Croydon had referred 54 young people to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for identifying and recording victims of trafficking, which seeks to ensure that the victims receive the appropriate support.


Officers were questioned on Albanian UASC, of whom there are currently 214, as stated in table 2 of the report. Officers explained that most of these were at risk from blood feuds in Albania. Albania is in the Schengen area and the children travel through Italy and France unhindered to reach the UK. The Cabinet Member highlighted the fact that Albania had applied to become members of the EU and that there was no current conflict in Albania, as a consequence of which the vast majority of Croydon's Albanian UASC would not be granted asylum. If they wish to appeal, they need to do so from Albania.


Officers stated that many Albanian UASC had families in the UK. Members asked why they presented as UASC if that was the case. Officers explained that they did not reveal their family ties when they presented at the Home Office, claiming in many cases that their parents were dead. As many such applicants go missing after being registered, officers have to investigate their disappearance and, through this work and discussions on the return of the individual, find out that many of these applicants have family in the UK. Officers stated that there was a large Albanian community in London.

Members asked why the Home Office did not challenge Albanian applicants more robustly as they knew that most were not in danger and that there was no conflict in that country. Officers explained that before a full assessment was conducted, applicants were considered to be "children in need" and the council was obliged to provide accommodation and care until this had been completed. However, they added that work was being carried out with Albanian officials to develop systems and agree a memorandum of agreement to ensure that applicants were able to go back to a safe place in their own country. The objective is to complete assessments and secure a voluntary return to Albania within twelve weeks as applicants automatically qualify as UASC in their thirteenth week in the UK.


Officers were asked whether they anticipated a significant influx of Syrian UASC, of whom there are only 11 in the borough at present. They replied that the government would be looking for voluntary offers under the National Dispersal Scheme from councils around the country but that Croydon would not be putting any forward in view of the existing influx of UASC.


In answer to a Member's question, officers stated that they were not in a position to estimate the impact of "Brexit" on the future numbers of UASC coming to the UK.


Members noted that 36% of UASC were not in employment, education or training. Officers explained that these individuals were not eligible for employment, education or training and admitted that this adversely affected their performance figures.


Officers were questioned on the impact of the Children in Care Council (CICC) on the welfare of children in care. One example they cited was the impact of an audience with senior housing officers to discuss the accommodation of children in care. This led to a better understanding of the needs of care leavers and to a review of housing provision for them.


Members thanked officers were thanked for their fulsome responses to members' questions but asked for future reports on UASC to be more detailed.


The following officers were in attendance for this item:
- Barbara Peacock, Executive Director (People Department)
- Ian Lewis, Director, Children and Family Early Intervention and Children's Social Care
- Wendy Tomlinson, Acting Head of Looked after Children Services
- Cynthia Winifred, Service Deliver Manager


Officers explained that the report offered a statistical analysis of the risk for a Looked After Child (LAC) to get involved with the Youth Offending Service (YOS).


A number of LAC have a range of problems such as a risk of exclusion, getting involved with gangs, child sexual exploitation, going missing, etc. The report seeks to answer the question whether children's services work effectively to tackle these risks.


Officers stressed that the vast majority of long term LAC in Croydon were not involved in criminal behaviour and were in employment, education or training.

It was noted that Albanian LAC were the largest ethnic group represented in the YOS, and that they tended to offend on each other.


As regards educational outcomes, officers acknowledged that LAC in Croydon lagged behind non LAC, having entered the system having to contend with some difficult challenges. Officers highlighted the fact that those who entered education at a later age find it particularly difficult to enhance their life chances. However, when looked after for a long period of time, they generally do better than children in need. Members were advised that national research had shown that the longer children had been in care, the better their life chances had become.


It was pointed out that one weakness care leavers had to face was their lack of family connections and networks, which can be used to secure employment, housing provision or advice and other resources and information.


Officers were questioned regarding financial resources to enhance the educational outcomes of LAC, including the Pupil Premium. They explained that the Pupil Premium was set at the beginning of the academic year. As many UASC enter school part way through the year, Pupil Premium is often paid to schools too late for them to use it to support these pupils, and is clawed back by central government. However, the Executive Director for the People Department stressed that she aimed to take steps to maximize the amount of Pupil Premium paid out to eligible pupils in the borough.


Members commended the report and thanked officers for their fulsome responses to questions.


Members agreed to approve the recommendations set out in paragraphs 9.1 and 9.2 of the report.


- A specific report on offending of Looked After Children be developed and presented to the Corporate Parenting Panel and to the Youth Crime Board presenting any additional work on the recommendations of the Review of Youth Offending Services conducted by Charlie Taylor. This should set out any additional actions to be taken across the multi-agency partnership. It should also address any additional training needs that may be required

- The Review recommends that the Government develop national Concordats regarding the recommendations that they have made. In advance of this, Croydon Council should develop a local Concordat across agencies by April 2017


The Chairman brought forward this item to allow relevant attendees to leave the meeting after presenting the report.

The following members of the working party were in attendance:
- Cllr Matthew Kyeremeh (working party Chair)
- Dave Clark, retired head teacher of Archbishop Lanfranc secondary school
- Mary MacCauley, retired head teacher at Croydon's Alternative Education School (ALTE)
- Mohan S Dhamrait OBE, governor at St Mary's secondary school and member and chair of Croydon's Independent Exclusion Panel


The following officers contributed to discussions:
- Barbara Peacock, Executive Director (People Department)
- David Butler, Head of School Standards
- Tony Murphy, Head of Learning Access
- Paul Brightly-Jones, Reintegration and Exclusions Officer


The report was presented to the sub-committee. Working party members highlighted the following points:
- Too many pupils are referred to the Fair Access Panel instead of receiving the support they need to improve their behaviour - this has been recognised by head teachers and efforts are being made to challenge the appropriateness of referrals more effectively
- Schools providing alternative provision receive more limited funding than other schools and cannot provide the same breadth of subjects to their pupils as a mainstream school
- School governors need to be better trained regarding the work of the Fair Access Panel


Members observed that some school governors' lack of understanding enabled school heads to keep back information on exclusions from them, and that it was essential for all staff, including school governors, to be ambitious for every child in their establishments and to be fully informed about their schools' performance and challenges, so that they could challenge head teachers on action taken to support all pupils, including those with significant needs.


Officers stated that training on school exclusions and the Fair Access Panel was offered to school governors but that take-up could be disappointing. He added that school governors were entitled to free on-site training but that this opportunity was not taken up as often as it could.


Officers drew Members' attention to the fact that in line with the new Ofsted inspection framework in place from September 2016, school governors must demonstrate that they are fully trained in all aspects of school governance and management, which will encourage them to embrace more of the training on offer to them.


Members stressed the need for all schools in the borough to engage with training and called on all establishments to benefit from good practice in the borough by sharing it through existing networks.


Officers commented on Alternative Provision. They explained that any Alternative Provision used in the borough had to be on the quality assured provider list and that all such establishments were regulated by Ofsted. The key objective was to get the best possible match of need to establishment for each pupil.


Members were advised that head teachers had recognised the need to achieve equality of approach and equality of threshold across the borough. As a result, they had agreed to the appointment of two head teachers to peer-review referrals to the Fair Access Panel and to challenge any inappropriate referrals.


In addition to the above, council officers have identified schools which make high numbers of referrals to the Fair Access Panel and low numbers of Early Help assessments. Through "team around the school" meetings, Early Help assessments in these establishments have risen and it is hoped that the number of referrals to the Fair Access Panel will decline as a result.


Sub-Committee members highlighted the usefulness of Recommendation 17, which calls upon officers to include statistics on Fair Access Panel referrals in the yearly school standards reports to Cabinet and Scrutiny. However, it was suggested that the data should not be broken down by school, as it might inadvertently disclose personal information.


The Cabinet Member thanked the working group for their work and recommendations and acknowledged that some of these would be challenging to implement. She praised the efforts of the Fair Access Panel to ensure that pupils did not suffer from the stigma of exclusion. She commented that action to address pupils' needs had to start at primary school level or even earlier, through such interventions as "Best Start".

The chair of the working party thanked all contributors to the review and expressed the wish to share the recommendations of the review with all the members of the council and head teachers in the borough.


The sub-committee discussed the recommendations and agreed that further work be carried out by council officers to ensure that they were received positively by local head teachers.


RESOLVED THAT: Officers carry out additional work on the recommendations of the review and produce a paper to be approved by Scrutiny Chairs, providing additional information on current initiatives and positive outcomes as well as updated recommendations, which it is hoped will be received positively by Croydon's head teachers.

A36/16 WORK PROGRAMME 2016=2017

Members discussed the agenda for the 11 October meeting. They stated that they wished to invite a few agencies represented on the Croydon Safeguarding Children Board to examine the effectiveness of partnership working on the Board. It was also suggested that discussion at the 11 October meeting might lead to a request for a more detailed report on a particular aspect of the work of the Board.

The meeting ended at 9.20pm .