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Apologies for absence
To receive any apologies for absence from any members of the Committee.
Apologies were given by Councillor Maria Gatland (represented by Cllr Margaret Bird at this meeting), Dave Harvey and Elaine Jones.
To approve the minutes of the meeting held on 17 October 2017 as an accurate record.
The minutes were agreed.
Disclosures of interest
In accordance with the Council’s Code of Conduct and the statutory provisions of the Localism Act, Members and co-opted Members of the Council are reminded that it is a requirement to register disclosable pecuniary interests (DPIs) and gifts and hospitality to the value of which exceeds £50 or multiple gifts and/or instances of hospitality with a cumulative value of £50 or more when received from a single donor within a rolling twelve month period. In addition, Members and co-opted Members are reminded that unless their disclosable pecuniary interest is registered on the register of interests or is the subject of a pending notification to the Monitoring Officer, they are required to disclose those disclosable pecuniary interests at the meeting. This should be done by completing the Disclosure of Interest form and handing it to the Democratic Services representative at the start of the meeting. The Chair will then invite Members to make their disclosure orally at the commencement of Agenda item 3. Completed disclosure forms will be provided to the Monitoring Officer for inclusion on the Register of Members’ Interests.
There were none.
Urgent Business (if any)
To receive notice of any business not on the agenda which in the opinion of the Chair, by reason of special circumstances, be considered as a matter of urgency.
There were none.
Smith, Interim Independent Chair of Croydon Safeguarding Children
Board, was in attendance for this item.
She explained that she was an experienced Director of
Children’s Services, and that she had extensive experience of
working on children’s services improvement plans with various
Members were advised that improvements would need to follow the latest government guidance on “Working Together to Safeguard Children”.
Members asked how partners would balance action and statutory reporting responsibilities. They were informed that the priorities set out in the 2016-17 annual report would be maintained and that partners would have to implement the objectives set out in the Ofsted improvement plan. As regards statutory reporting on performance, the Interim Chair acknowledged that this could take up significant amounts of officer time and that this needed to be better balanced with implementation of improvements.
Members asked how they could access agendas and reports of the safeguarding board as they wished to compare new agendas and minutes to documents published before the Ofsted inspection. They had noticed that older agendas had been significantly overloaded and wondered whether this had improved. The Executive Director (People) stated that agendas should usually be published on the web, although this was not always the case. Members were also reminded that the CSCB was not a council body and had different publishing procedures. The Interim Chair explained that she would have to work with partners to agree to publish their meeting papers on a regular basis. Members expressed the hope that this could be achieved so that they could monitor the work of the Safeguarding Board and satisfy themselves that its challenging role was becoming more robust.
Members asked for health and police partners to attend future scrutiny meetings focusing on the work of the children’s safeguarding board, as their role in this work was critical. They stressed the importance of scrutinising the effectiveness and impact of their partnership work to safeguard children. The Interim Chair stated that she was willing to coordinate the attendance of health and ... view the full minutes text for item 44/17
The following officers were in attendance for this item:
- Barbara Peacock Executive Director (People)
- Philip Segurola, Interim Director, Early Help and Children’s Social Care
The Interim Director of Early Help and Children’s Social Care gave an overview of the statistics on missing children and percentage of Return Home Interviews (RHIs) carried out from April 2017 onwards. He stated that the performance of completed RHIs was improving but still needed to improve considerably.
Members were advised that additional staffing had been recruited to carry out RHIs. Their background is in improving family resilience and their focus is on completing these interviews with high risk adolescents on the edge of care. Staff are holding daily meetings to discuss missing children and agree ways of tackling the issues causing these absences. Officers added that the organisation commissioned to organise out of borough placements for children in care would be asked to organise RHIs for any such young person going missing, within 72 hours of their return home.
Members welcomed the report. However, they asked for future reports on RHIs to provide not only percentages, but also numbers of RHIs completed.
Asked about the age of children and young people going missing, officers explained that the vast majority were adolescents, with a significant number in the 15-16 year age band.
Members expressed concerns about the possibility of young girls going missing because they were being abused sexually at home. Officers concurred that home circumstances could be the cause of young people going missing. The job of staff carrying out RHIs was to develop a good rapport with the young person being interviewed so that this information could be drawn out of them and solutions developed to tackle abuse.
Asked about the motivation of young people going missing, officers stated that they did so for a wide variety of reasons. One particularly worrying trend, called “county lines”, is that of young people being groomed to sell drugs a considerable distance away from their home town, making it very difficult for local services to combat this practice. Members were also advised of a rise in the number of girls being recruited to get involved in county lines.
Members highlighted the fact that there existed specialist charities focusing on providing support to children in care. Officers concurred, citing” Safer in London” among other voluntary sector organisations carrying out such work.
Officers observed that there was no national benchmark for RHIs but stated that they were committed to raising the percentage of RHIs to 50% of missing episodes.
Members heard that “Achieving for Children”, an organisation working in Kingston and Richmond, usually achieved a 60-65% response rate, which members challenged the council to aspire to. Officers were asked whether they used a range of different ways of contacting young people to conduct RHIs, such as Skype calls. Officers replied that face to face contact was preferable but that officers were flexible in their approach to young people coming back from a missing episode.
It was ... view the full minutes text for item 45/17
Members were given an outline of this topic by officers. They stressed that each meeting of the sub-committee needed to have an item on the progress of the improvement plan, which officers committed themselves to providing.
Officers emphasised that Public Law Outline (PLO) was a critical part of the process for protecting vulnerable babies and children and yet had not been valued or used to the full by children’s services. They explained that PLO had two benefits:
- It entailed all the preparation work being completed ahead of court appearances, thus avoiding delays
- The application process itself can be a wake-up call for families and present an opportunity to acknowledge problems and put things right
The Council had previously carried out poor preparation for PLO cases, leading to difficulties during court cases and harming the relationship between the council and the court.
Following the Ofsted inspection, PLOs have become a priority. The number of care proceedings has increased significantly: 92 have been issued in the first five and a half of this financial year. Officers observed that pre-birth has been a factor in many of the referrals. This rise in the number of cases has presented a major challenge for resources, as a result of which two news teams have been created and a third one is now being recruited to.
Officers highlighted the fact that support for children was often hampered by the fact that information on their histories was often unavailable or of poor quality as the families concerned tended to move from borough to borough and information sharing from one council to another was an issue.
Officers explained that social workers dealing with such cases were being trained on court processes and trials to feel more confident when presenting a case. Members asked whether they could observe this training.
Members enquired why the council was having to deal with such high numbers of cases and asked whether parenting skills training could be provided to prevent problems from emerging in the first place. The Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Learning suggested that such support or training could be provided through the means of community engagement. Members agreed that this needed to be prioritised as prevention was far better than cure.
Officers were thanked for their responses to members’ questions.
RESOLVED to note the report.
Members discussed the work programme for the 6 February and 13 March 2018 sub-committee meetings. They agreed to have follow-up items on missing children and Return Home Interviews at the February and March 2018 meetings.
Members discussed what difference had been made as a result of scrutiny work. Officers highlighted the usefulness of members’ questioning on safeguarding in Bed and Breakfast establishments and their challenge to the Interim Chair of the CSCB regarding the representation of staff teaching disabled children on the safeguarding board. The Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Learning stated that she had particularly valued the following:
- the sub-committee’s questions on missing children and RHIs
- the discussions held by members with social workers, revealing their concerns over heavy workloads and management’s lack of response to these concerns
- the sub-committee’s request to engage parents and help them acquire better parenting skills to nip children’s problems in the bud.
Members asked officers to provide them with the protocol for police action in schools. Officers acknowledged that such a protocol existed, and was due to be reissued in January 2018. They undertook to have it circulated to members of the sub-committee and to invite comment from them on its content. It was suggested that there was a need for a community group to monitor cases where young people were arrested by the police to ensure compliance with the protocol.
Members asked to receive the report which is to be written by the children’s commissioner on her findings about the council’s progress on implementing its improvement plan.
(i) have an agenda item on missing children and RHIs at both the February and March sub-committee meetings
(ii) request a copy of the protocol for police action in schools
(iii) request a copy of the report to be written by the children’s commissioner on her findings regarding the council’s progress on implementing its improvement plan.