This item was presented by Oretha Wofford, Principal Social Worker.
The Panel were advised that the report had been written six months before and that progress had been made in a number of areas since then. However, there remained some lingering themes:
- Issues with preparation for leaving care and pathway planning for young people aged 16 and over
- Issues with the quality of visits
- Delays in getting cases resolved
- The quality of direct work with young people
The Chair invited Tim Sugden, who had been an IRO for 11 years, to speak on his experience of this work. He explained that he had written the preface to the "IRO voices Annual Report" included in this meeting's agenda and set out the key issues he had faced in doing this work, such as receiving appropriate answers to his many questions and queries. He conceded, however, that there had been some improvement and that quality assurance had become more consistent in recent months.
Tim Sugden explained that there were three complaint stages before an issue was escalated to the Executive Director, and that 3 complaints had reached that final stage in the last 4 months, including a complaint regarding immunisation.
Officers concurred that the council needed to embrace the views of IROs and use them to improve outcomes for children and that timeliness of responses needed to be improved.
Members discussed the graph on page 41 of the agenda, setting out responses to the question "Has semi-independent / permanent accommodation, the leaving care grant and post-eighteen support been explained?". They noted that only 45% had answered "yes" to this question. Officers explained that while these questions were always discussed, they were not always explained clearly enough, leading to a negative answer from looked after children. This was a particular problem for young people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who had not fully understood the information given to them.
Members questioned officers regarding the reasons for delays in addressing "CERPs" (complaints made using the Croydon Escalation and Resolution Process"). Officers explained that these delays were due to a range of reasons including the notification process. Asked whether they felt the process was satisfactory, officers replied that it had improved dramatically after initial teething troubles and that an increasing number of IROs were using the complaints process effectively and confidently. The Panel also heard that there was an agreed escalation policy with guidance on thresholds for triggering a "CERP", which officers would be happy to circulate. To officers' comments on thresholds, members stressed that thresholds might need to vary according to the type and acuteness of need of different individuals.
Members and officers agreed that endeavouring to resolve issues through informal discussion before having to escalate them as "CERPs" was good practice, but it was emphasised that a record of informal discussions also needed to be kept. Officers stated that a system had been developed for recording such informal discussions, which currently held about 230 such reports. It was argued that the monitoring of such discussions should be improved and that these records should be analysed to identify trends and tackle them in a timely fashion.
The Panel were informed that the Director of Children, Family Intervention and Children's Social Care received a quarterly report regarding ongoing issues, which was then used to review and fine-tune management plans.
Asked about trends in CERPs, officers responded that health assessments had been an issue some years ago but that backlogs had now been resolved.
Members asked how often there had been an escalation of an informal discussion to a formal complaint. Officers explained that serious issues such as the failure to take forward an adoption plan might merit swift escalation while an issue with pocket money would not merit a full scale complaint under the Croydon Escalation and Resolution Process.
Officers stressed that while CERPs were a useful tool for addressing the needs of Looked After Children, the role of IROs was not to be a "compliance police force", but rather to befriend, encourage and inspire young people in care.
The Panel heard that one IRO was attached to the Leaving Care team to help young people manage the challenging transition from care to independence more easily.
The Chair invited young people present to comment on their relationship with their IROs.
K. stated that he had a friendly IRO, who he felt really listened to his views and needs, and did not take sides. He felt that all IROs should be like his one.
R. stated that he had a very understanding IRO. He explained that he learnt quite slowly and that he received good support from his IRO and his social worker to manage his learning difficulties.
R.'s foster carer stated that R's IRO had been on long term sickness leave and that no one had filled that gap in her absence, which had led to difficulties for R. including the cancellation of his Personal Education Plan (PEP). The IRO had then come back too soon in the opinion of the foster carer, which had had an impact on R. She stressed that a back-up plan was needed in such circumstances to provide continuity of support for Looked After Children.
B. was in attendance but his foster carer spoke for him and said that everything was OK.
Young people in attendance were asked whether they felt that they had received adequate preparation for leaving care. R. stated that he had, and was appreciative of the information and advice he had received. He added that he felt he would benefit from support e.g. financial advice at the point when he moved to semi-independent accommodation. K., on the other hand, felt that the Leaving Care team did not take this work seriously enough. He felt that he was not ready to move out from his foster family and urged officers to make that transfer easier. He explained that he had had the same social worker for 7 years and had developed a very good relationship with her and stressed that for many young looked after people, turning 18 represented a real challenge.
Officers stated that with the "Staying put" initiative, young people were encouraged to go semi-independent ONLY if they felt ready to do so.
Officers, Looked After Children and their foster carers were thanked for their responses to members' questions.