The following officers were in attendance for this item:
- Barbara Peacock, Executive Director (People Department)
- Sarah Baker, Independent Chair, Croydon Safeguarding Adults and Children Boards
- Gavin Swann, Head of Children's Safeguarding and Quality Assurance
The item was introduced by the Independent Chair of Croydon Safeguarding Adults and Children Boards. She explained that the production of an annual report by the Board was a requirement of "Working together to safeguard children 2015", a document providing statutory guidance to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. She added that the annual report aimed to demonstrate the impact of the board's work on the welfare of children in the borough. She stated that the report was shared with members of the board and local communities and that efforts had been made to make it more accessible to the public with a more thematic approach and more graphics and pictures.
Members were advised that the priorities of the board for the previous year had included early help and improving multi-agency work and audit. The priorities for this year, which are shown at the end of the report, include serious case reviews and ways in which practitioners understand and apply thresholds to access to services. A particular emphasis is being placed on engagement with schools, where service providers can access pupils more easily.
Officers acknowledged the fact that there was a strong and valued member focus on children in need and children's service in the borough.
Officers were asked to explain how the number of referrals to children's social services had increased by 13.8% from 2015 to 2016. They explained that this rise was due to a number of factors:
- A national rise in the number of newly qualified health visitors over the last two years as a result of a national campaign and the fact that these professionals had a lower threshold for risk than other professionals
- A rise in the youth population in the borough, as well as an increase in need and poverty.
- A rise in reporting resulting from awareness raising campaigns on child abuse
- Changes in legislation on child trafficking, particularly the exploitation of local vulnerable adults and children in certain counties as local runners to deliver drugs and money.
Members noted that 3.9% of children were on the child protection register and asked officers whether this was a concern. They were advised that this figure represented the children in two large families, whose needs were being addressed.
Members stressed that this annual report demonstrated the need for additional resources to tackle increasing need. They also acknowledged the importance of the skills base being developed in the borough to address these needs.
It was acknowledged that budgets for children's services were gradually falling nationwide. Officers stated that they were on a constant look-out for ways of securing good value for money and that the borough had a good track record for bidding for funding. They were currently working on a bid to the DfE Innovation Fund to extend the Best Start initiative to a wider age range.
Members asked how the board ensured all its partners were kept up to date on online abuse and put effective prevention in place to protect young people from this. Officers explained that they were working to tackle online communications relating to CSE, gangs, knife crime, etc. and stressed that this was an integral part of their child protection work. Members were advised that particular attention was paid to the online communications of the twenty most worrying children and young people in the borough. In addition, parents were encouraged to adopt good practice in their dealings with their children: for instance, they were urged to have their children going online in the living room, rather than in their bedroom, so that parents could monitor their online communications more effectively.
Officers were asked how "return home interviews" were monitored and what training was given to make the most of them. They replied that the NSPCC had been contracted to work on these and that one of the agency's officers was based in the council offices. Members were advised that about 30% of young people agreed to have a face to face "return home interview". The charity "Missing People" was working with officers to explore the possibility of conducting such interviews by phone. Officers stated that this approach had led to an increase in contacts with the most vulnerable young people who had gone missing. They also admitted that some social workers were not recording details of all return home interviews.
Members questioned officers regarding the needs of children and young people with special educational needs. They were advised that special needs were a factor in many problem categories.
Members noted that the number of missing children in Croydon was the largest in London and asked officers if they were scrutinising the work carried out to bring them back as effectively as possible. The Independent Chair of Croydon's Safeguarding Boards stated that she had been impressed with the work done in Croydon in this area. A daily missing children list was produced with data produced by the police, who dedicate a significant amount of time on dealing with missing children. The Missing Monday Panel meets every week to monitor the situation and tracks every missing child closely. In addition, the Children's Safeguarding Board also monitors trends in the number of missing children. Members heard that missing children were involved in a number of other problems such as CSE, gangs, drugs, etc. The FGM project led by health professionals has also noted the rise in such events during the school holidays, when a child might be taken to another country for this to be carried out.
Members asked officers what could be done to stem the rise in the number of missing children. The Independent Chair of Croydon's Safeguarding Boards stated that this rise was partly due to a rising awareness of this issue and growing confidence to report such incidents. In addition, many of the looked after children in Croydon are from other boroughs, to which many children run away. In acknowledgement of the problem, a letter had been sent by the previous chair of the Children Safeguarding Board and the previous Council Chief Executive to all the London boroughs to seek better cooperation on returning missing children to their homes. This exercise is likely to be repeated in the near future.
Members were invited to read the annual report on missing children produced for the Safeguarding Board, in order to gain a better picture of the current situation and action being taken to safeguarding children at risk of going missing.
Members noted that the Wood Report published in March 2016 had stated that safeguarding boards across the nation did not all work effectively. To help with the scrutiny of Croydon's Safeguarding Boards, members suggested that Scrutiny members should receive a forward looking report showing how lessons from previous years had been learnt and applied.
Officers stated that the recommendations of the Wood Report had been accepted by the government and that they were being put into legislation, which was likely to come onto the statute books by the following spring. This in turn would be implemented by local councils. Some work on the implementation of the Wood report was already ongoing - indeed Croydon's Independent Chair was due to meet with the police to agree how to put into effect one aspect of the Wood Report recommendations. In addition, to manage joint targeted area inspections, lead officers within each partner agency took responsibility for reading on their element of the inspection and the follow-up. Members were also advised that the voluntary and community sector provided a considerably amount of intelligence regarding safeguarding risks to inform the inspection process.
Officers admitted that some agencies were finding it difficult to send representatives to safeguarding board meetings as the areas within their remits had expanded and that these changes had put pressure on staffing resources.
Members felt there was a lack of detail to assess how well the work plan for 2015-2016 had been implemented and asked whether this type of information could be incorporated into next year's report. Alternatively, this information could be presented in a separate Scrutiny report next year. The Independent Chair explained that there was a need to control the length of the annual report, which already contained 80 pages. She stressed the need for the annual report to be more community-oriented but was happy for the Scrutiny Sub-Committee to receive more bespoke reports on the performance of the Board. Members.
Members noted that a key element of this year's objectives was engagement with schools. The co-optee in attendance at the meeting stated that he was a member of the Board's education sub-group and observed that large academy chains and private establishments did not seem to be engaging satisfactorily with the Board. He asked the Independent Chair how the board aimed to resolve this issue. The Chair replied that the Safeguarding lead from Trinity school represented the private sector schools in Croydon. In addition, the Chair had met with school governors in various schools to talk about the work of the Safeguarding Board and how it could support schools. The Board had just sent out safeguarding self-assessments to all schools in the borough with links to relevant legislation, much of which had recently changed, to obtain updates from these establishments as well as to keep them up-to-date with safeguarding legislation and schools' duties in this regard. In addition, relevant council officers were targeting schools which were not referring cases of children at risk to relevant council services in order to tackle any risk of negligence on the part of these establishments.
In answer to a question, the Cabinet Member stated that the particular strengths of the Safeguarding Board were as follows:
- Leading the way on FGM including work in schools to encourage pupil engagement in this issue
- The work of the Board on missing children
- The work of the Board on sexual exploitation, with mandatory training for councilors and measures to ensure that data filtered down to parents
Asked how the council might support the Board in the forthcoming year, the Cabinet Member stated that conversations with other boroughs - including their lead members- on child sexual exploitation and unaccompanied asylum seeking children would be sought.
Questioned regarding success in engaging with the diverse communities in the borough, the Independent Chair explained that the Board had worked with the borough of Barking and Dagenham on this area and had adopted some of their methods to improve communications with the diverse communities in Croydon. Unaccompanied asylum seeking children in particular came from widely different cultural backgrounds, which support services needed to comprehend in order to understand how best to meet their needs. Officers stated that there was an over-representation of black young women in child sexual exploitation. As a result, contacts had been made with black churches in order to highlight the risk and discuss how best it might be tackled.
Members discussed the exploitation of local vulnerable adults and children in certain counties as local runners to deliver drugs and money in a system called "county lines". Officers reported that last year, 60 children had been identified, arrested and accommodated as linked to "county lines".
Members highlighted one of the key objectives of the Safeguarding Children Board, which was to take action to enable all children to have the best outcomes'. They asked the Independent Chair whether the Board was looking after the interests of all children in the borough. She replied that the Board should promote the welfare of all children in line with the Wood report, but that the greatest risks should be recognised and tackled first. She explained that the Board worked with local communities and trading standards to run awareness raising campaigns on issues such as safe plug sockets, road accident prevention for children, etc., and was planning to do a future campaign on fire safety at home.
The Chair was questioned about the transition from children's services to adult services. She explained that the timing of transition is determined by the nature of a child's needs rather than set at a fixed point in time. She added that if transition was not well managed, an individual could go "off radar", then return to social services with far more acute needs. She stressed that the Care Act 2014 stated explicitly that safeguarding boards must ensure that transition arrangements should be made at an appropriate point.
Officers were advised that a Scrutiny review had been conducted five years ago regarding communications between schools, parents and key agencies such as police to disseminate information on safety risks. Members felt that arrangements put in place following the review did not appear to have worked well in a recent incident. Officers stressed that schools needed to communicate well with councils on all safeguarding issues and to give councils permission to pass on this information to relevant parties. In addition, every school should have a designated safeguarding officer -a senior member of staff although not usually a head teacher - who should manage communications in such incidents and the council should have an up-to-date list of these officers. Every school should also have a designated school governor in charge of safeguarding issues.
Officers were thanked for their detailed answers to Members' questions.
Members came to the following conclusions regarding this agenda item:
- They commended the answers given to their questions.
- They agreed that a forward looking business plan needed to form part of the annual report.
- If the annual report is simplified to cater for a wider readership, this sub-committee needs to receive an additional report setting out performance data showing how agencies and the board have performed in the previous year, lessons learnt from the previous year and information on how they will be applied in practice, and how the board has implemented the Wood recommendations.
- Members asked to receive information on attendance at board meetings, and officers suggested this might be provided in the form of attendance percentages for each agency concerned.
Members also asked whether the annual report might come to a summer meeting of the sub-committee. They were advised that this might not be possible as the report belonged to the Safeguarding Board, which had its own yearly timetable.