The following officers were in attendance for this item:
- Barbara Peacock, Executive Director (People)
- Ian Lewis, Director, Child and Family Early Intervention and Children
The Director outlined the new vision for Children's services which is as follows:
Children and young people in Croydon will be safe, healthy, happy and will aspire to be the best they can be. The future is theirs.
Members were given an overview of the key priorities in the division's improvement plan:
- Early help services
- Performance management
- The use of data
- Engaging children and young people
They were pleased to hear that the division's application to the innovation fund had reached the second stage.
Questioned about the role of the police in safeguarding children and young people, the Executive Director stated that this agency was engaging well with the council on issues such as child sexual exploitation, gangs and missing children. Joint work is also taking place on clarifying the two agencies' respective roles in addressing risks.
Members were advised that the division had initiated a review of Section 20 cases and that managers were ensuring that a plan was set up for each of these cases. In answer to a question, officers explained that the challenge they faced was the rise in the number of care procedures.
Officers were questioned on the sharp increase in assessment cases. Officers explained that they had actually decreased from 800 to 600 in the last two months.
Questioned on the turnover of staff, officers explained that the borough had once been the worst performing in London, but that turnover of permanent staff had now fallen to 15% per year.
Members questioned officers on the work of the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). They were advised that this partnership group had no backlog and that cases were dealt with promptly despite the high number of contacts, about 5000-6000 per quarter. Performance monitoring has also improved with a new suite of Key Performance Indicators.
Members asked whether telephone lines to the MASH were always manned or whether there was sometimes a delay in responses to callers, many of whom were school staff reporting safeguarding risks. They were given assurances that the MASH had a sufficient number of operators and that callers were responded to directly. Indeed, feedback from head teachers regarding the work of the MASH was improving.
Members discussed access to child and adolescent mental health services. They were reminded that these services had recently received additional funding, including resources from NHS England to implement the borough's transformation plan. As a result, more children and young people in Croydon were getting access to mental health services. Officers added that Looked After Children received specially commissioned mental health services, with a much shorter waiting time before accessing them.
Members discussed missing children. Officers acknowledged that Croydon had one of the highest numbers of missing children in the capital. Officers monitor developments through daily missing children reports to children's social care staff, six weekly summary reports, regular "missing children's panel" meetings and "return home interviews". Unfortunately, 50% of children and young people decline to take part in such interviews on their return.
Asked how they could find out why the children went missing if they refused to take part in a return home interview, officers explained that social workers were skilled at communicating with children and persevered in their efforts to ascertain the causes of absences even if this was not through a formal "return home interview".
The Director explained that many children and young people going missing were placed in Croydon by other local authorities after involvement in child sexual exploitation, gangs and other issues, with a view to protecting them from such risks in future.
Members discussed adoption figures in the borough and were advised that the capital performed somewhat worse than the rest of the country in this respect. Officers explained that it was hoped this would be addressed through the new regionalisation approach. At the moment, 33 local authorities are recruiting adopters independently from the same pool. Regionalisation aims to carry out the recruitment more systematically. So far, 26 local authorities have formally signed up to participate in these arrangements while 2 others, located on the edge of the capital, have chosen not to.
Officers highlighted two areas which needed improvement:
- engagement with children and young people
- providing help to children in need at the right time
The Chair of Scrutiny offered to contribute to discussions on improving the engagement of children and young people. The Executive Director welcomed this offer. She announced that a new director post had been created which included a youth engagement responsibility, and that the officer recruited to the new post had been tasked with establishing a youth engagement strategy. She added that Scrutiny might contribute their ideas to this work.
The Committee stated that it was impressed with the work carried out on children's social care and thanked officers for their fulsome replies to their questions.