Agenda item

Josh MacAlister's Independent Review of Children's Social Care - Briefing


Councillor Carlyle, Jean Kelly (Service Director for Children, Young People and Families) and Jane Anstis (Head of Service for Children, Young People and Families) and Emma Crowther (Strategic Commissioning Manager) presented this item to members and highlighted the following key points:



The Independent review had 72 recommendations of which two thirds required a government response either through legislation, updating statutory guidelines or whether additional financial resource was required. Josh MacAlisters report recommended additional funding of £2.6 billion and a five year plan to put those changes into action;



The report would transform what had been a succession of incremental changes over 30 years since the Children’s Act 1991. The review had 7 key themes from early help through to children, young people and families within Social Care systems;



Changes were unable to take place until legislation had been passed;



The review had highlighted Plymouth’s commitment to its care experienced young people and many of the recommendations that hadn’t required government involvement had already been or was being implemented in Plymouth;



It was acknowledged that Plymouth had a recruitment and retention issue, but this had also been a national problem. Plymouth did not have an experience of this being more than other local authorities;



Plymouth had experienced placement sufficiency challenges which had led to children being placed outside of the city boundaries and also into residential and Independent Sector foster care placements;



Plymouth had been experiencing difficulties in recruiting foster carers and within the review, Josh MacAlister recommended the recruitment of 9,000 foster carers in three years;



‘A Bright Future’ set out Plymouth’s ambitions for its children in care. This had included the ambition to increase the number of local foster placements and to increase the skills and expertise of foster carers locally. Plymouth wanted children to remain in Plymouth so that they remained in their schools and maintained important links with family and friends;



There had been a challenge in opening new children’s homes in Plymouth and it had been reported that it would cost £1 million to set up a new home due to associated costs. There had been a challenge in the availability of placements in managing need, particularly for children and young people with complex needs and in relation to the volume of placements required;



Whilst OFSTED did provide good quality assurance on current placements, it was recognised that the organisation could provide a disincentive due to the risk and fear of receiving an inadequate rating. It was noted that it could end a care home managers career if those inspections had been poor;



Foster carers had been leaving the profession in greater numbers due to a number of factors including; an aging population, health vulnerabilities and due to COVID many foster carers reflected on their own lifestyles. This current climate had led to children who required foster placements being placed within residential placements and in turn led to less residential beds and in turn led to more use of emergency, short term, unregulated placements;



Plymouth had a lack of suitable housing provision within the city which would allow young people to move on;



There had been 100 referrals for one vacant bed for foster placements. There had been further reports from those foster care placements of a rise in complexity for children, usually seen in teenagers;



Plymouth had used unregistered placements sparingly, it was acknowledged that Plymouth did not want to use these provisions and would proactively find suitable provision quickly. These arrangements are illegal but Plymouth worked with OFSTED to notify them of these occurrences. There were a number of factors as to why these placements were used which included welfare secure beds seeing a large volume of referrals for one vacant bed, challenges in accessing tier 4 mental health beds or alternatives where children/young people had significant mental health needs. Providers become worried in taking on children who present that level of risk and the longer a child/young person stayed in an unregistered placement the more difficult it had been to place that child in a more suitable provision. Because of this, Plymouth has had to use deprivation of liberty placements due to the staffing ratios being very high. Plymouth ensured that for those children in those placements they had significant overview with legal safeguards in place due to the restriction of their liberty;


Plymouth had been working to provide a framework for staffing agencies contractually to ensure that they provided a quality provision for Plymouth’s children;



Plymouth had worked hard to bring more providers to the City since 2012. Currently Plymouth had 17 block contract beds with a further 8 coming online. Those placements had brought positive national attention in providing positive outcomes for children with a reduction in placement breakdowns, providing stable placements, children being able to come back to the City/to stay in the city and also to either go to fostering placements or being able to return home. OFSTED ratings on these homes had a 100% rating of being graded good;





Plymouth needed to :

      i.        refresh its placement sufficiency plan

     ii.        intervene at earlier points to prevent children and young people coming into the care of the Local Authority,

    iii.        recommission the block contract for provisions within the city,

    iv.        grow the number of local foster carers;

     v.        commission a significant piece of work in relation to housing within the city

    vi.        complete work around transitions and how Plymouth could support children/young people with complex disabilities live independent and happy lives

  vii.        reduce the use of bespoke and unregistered placements

 viii.        seek staff for the social care system through the  Health and Adult Social Care skills partnership



69% of social workers would leave the profession within the first five years. Plymouth’s vacancy rate climbed in 2020 with a peak in the summer of 2021. The Council invested in 9 new qualified social worker posts and when discounted from the data, Plymouth had a vacancy rate of 16.8% which followed the national average;



Plymouth had struggled with the recruitment and retention of social workers particularly in teams where families required medium to longer term responses;



There had been an emergence of a digital market which had seen social workers being able to work across the country but separate to this base. This has disrupted the market nationally and Plymouth had been trying to adapt;



Plymouth had recruited project teams as an interim solution which had just started to exit from and would move to oversees recruitment as part of the exit plan;



Social workers nationally experienced a high degree of trauma impact and Plymouth would be addressing this in a robust way to support its staff;



Plymouth had been in the middle of a recruitment process for oversees workers and had moved into an interview and selection phase;



Plymouth had retained staff well and although two teams had signalled high throughput, many social workers remained in Plymouth but moved teams within the service;



Plymouth had been working on a new recruitment and retention strategy that would be available at the end of November subject to final checks. There would be new and supported pathways to support retention;



Plymouth launched its Ask Jan service for care experienced young people 18 – 25 and gave 24 hour access to a range of services including counselling, free at the point of access;


In response to questions raised it was reported that:



The prevalence of children with more complex needs had been due to a combination of factors which included more understanding of the way in which adverse childhood experiences had impacted their development, this trend had been seen locally and nationally. Fostering agencies had transformed the way in which they responded to children and young people and employ therapists, clinicians and others to respond fully to the child;



The Committee would write to Kelly Tolhurst MP, Minister of State (Education) to request no more drift on the government’s response to the review and requested a response no later than the end of 2022. The letter would also endorse the recommendations from the review and endorse the calculations of £2.6 billion of required funding;



Plymouth had been putting a number of things in place if children/young people wanted to stay in their placements which included staying put foster placements. A new 5 bed home for 18+ young people had opened with a provider in the city which had been designed specifically for those young people that are ready to move into something more independent but not entirely to enable planning for their next steps;



Plymouth City Council would be unable to directly market to foster carers currently operating for Independent sector foster care agencies (IFA) and would not look to do this either as they provided an invaluable service for the city and Plymouth would not want to unsettle or undermine the relationship;



Plymouth used agency staff to cover posts to ensure that Plymouth safeguarded children appropriately. The creation of posts had been covered by agency workers but it had always been the intention to replace agency workers with in house workers. The Council wanted to reduce caseloads to allow social workers to work with families in a more engaged way and to reduce risks;



There had been very few staff that had been on long term sickness. It was acknowledged that there had been an issue in the profession due to the stressful nature of the work carried out by social workers that would be a reason for social workers to be on long term sickness. In those instances cases would be reallocated to ensure Plymouth fulfilled its statutory duties to children;



Plymouth had been looking into ways in which social workers could be supported with the amount of admin required, to ensure social workers could spend more time working with families;



Plymouth had been working to introduce a guarantor scheme for care experienced young people to reduce risks of homelessness;


The Committee agreed to note the report.


















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