Agenda item

Children's Social Care - Improvement Plan


Councillor Jemima Laing (Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Care, Culture, Events and Communications) introduced the item to the Committee and made the following key points:



The Improvement Plan was a detailed and comprehensive plan to ensure Plymouth improved it services in the city. Each month the Improvement Board met to hear of and review progress of the Improvement journey; 



The Board was chaired Theresa Leavy (Executive Director of People, Dorset County Council) with Councillor Laing (Portfolio holder responsibility) and Councillor Evans OBE (Leader of the Council) in attendance. The Board also had attendance from numerous partners from across the city;



The improvement had not been for just Plymouth City Council but for all key partners including schools, early years, voluntary sector and Plymouth’s further education sector;



The Improvement Board had been advising Plymouth it needed to take its practice back to basics. From Plymouths assessments, to its plans, to its supervision, to its management oversight and clear records on the systems Plymouth uses;



The Board had been working with staff to make changes since January 2023 and work would continue as part of the Department for Educations Improvement notice until such time that the notice expires or ceases.


Sharon Muldoon (Director for Children’s Services) presented the report to the Committee and highlighted the following key points:



The measures within the report were reviewed every month by the Improvement Board to see progress in key areas but also systems that required change to improve outcomes for Plymouths children and young people;



The Council had increased its Early Help cohort and following discussions with schools in the city it was acknowledged that the Council could do more to support children in that space. The Council had increased those teams which were formed and they were working closely with the Education service. This presented a new way of working for the service from a silo one to a more integrated system;



The focussed visit in December highlighted that the Front Door of the service was not working as well as it should in terms of supporting the children of Plymouth but there had also been an issue in terms of consent to make a referral;



An event held by Plymouth City Council on 26 April 2023 had all schools within Plymouth in attendance where it was reaffirmed the need to work together. Feedback from head teachers across the city had advised that the systems were improving and changing and that the service was much more responsive;



Caseloads within the Children’s Social Work service had remained high which decreased the quality of practice. The workforce in Plymouth was relatively new in terms of experience with newly qualified social workers having low caseloads and the more experienced social workers having high caseloads. The Social Work Academy in Plymouth remained at 100% and provided assurance that there remained a steady pipeline for the future;



For the Permanence service who work with children in care, the teams were more stable with more appropriate caseloads. The audit findings from that service point to a better standard of work and the Improvement Plan therefore was orientated to Early Help, Initial Response Teams, and Children’s Social Work teams in the Front Door;



The Board looked at the services workforce stability and it had reviewed that sickness levels had reduced over a 10 month period and it was hoped this would further reduce as the right conditions continued to be implemented;



Retention in Plymouth had strengthened, it was recognised that social workers in Plymouth did not leave but were moving to different parts of the service. The Initial Response Teams and the Children’s Social Work service were the areas in the service which had been vulnerable to retention issues and due to this, the Council had implemented a recruitment and retention bonus to encourage social workers to remain in that space;



The service had been implementing a structural redesign and was moving to a Targeted Operating Model (TOM) which had been utilised by many good or outstanding local authorities. This would see Plymouth shift to a locality based model which worked closely with schools and early year settings;


In response to questions raised it was reported that:



The percentage of referrals leading to no further action had seen a considerable increase in the months of February and March 2023. This had been due to process changes through the services quality assurance system and as there had been a tightening of decision making there had been an increase. It was recognised that this was not unusual in an improvement journey but as Plymouth moved through its improvement work it was expected to stabilise over the coming months;



The percentage of single assessments completed within 45 working days for in month and year to date had been moving in the wrong direction. The Committee were advised that this had been due to high caseloads and within the Initial Response Teams there had been higher sickness levels which had also driven higher caseloads;



The number of referrals into the Multi-agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) had increased significantly in March 2023 which had been due to a process change;



The KPI reporting within the report had been requiring development, this was being worked on and would be reported to the next scrutiny committee, along with additional reporting measures following feedback from Dorset County Council colleagues;



Social Worker assistant roles had been moving through the process and the service had been in the recruitment phase, it was hoped that the full benefit of those new posts would be seen in the coming months;



The new TOM envisaged social workers to have a caseload of 18, it was acknowledged that this would not be a reality until the service progressed through the improvement journey. Caseloads of 18 would provide the right conditions for practitioners to have adequate time to work with families and make the impact they need to support Plymouth’s children and young people;



The workforce had training delivered by Mark Finnis, a restorative practitioner in order to get staff back to strength based practice;



The workforce through feedback, advised that they had felt listened to and could see things changing. It was reported that the improvement journey would take approximately three years to fully implement;



With regards to supervision, the Committee were advised that there had been too many direct reports into a team manager, with one team manager having 15 direct reports. The TOM had addressed this and an additional team manager role had been created for that part of the service;



The Seeking Employment, Education and Training (SEET) strategy was in the beginning phase of being implemented. It was recognised that Plymouth had taken a number of 16/17 years old into care over previous years which had shown a high trend of young people not in education, employment or training and with the service moving to an early help model, it would ensure Plymouth had the right entrants into care;



A pilot incentive scheme would be launched at the end of summer 2023, initially for care experienced young people. The scheme would see a bespoke employability programme launched in Plymouth which would provide intensive work around employability skills with a residential element and some work experience;



The service would look into the rationale behind data points 41 to 44 in order to understand why the aspiration for 100% was not integrated into the plan;



Timeliness of reviews of children in care had improved from 74.3% to 93.1%;



Social worker caseloads were reported to be adequate for the Permanence service but that for the Children’s Social Work service and Initial Response teams improvement was required to bring down caseloads for experienced social workers;



The service would be working on a business case to help Special Guardianship arrangements and to prevent the high prevalence of those arrangements breaking down, especially for young adolescents;



Plymouth City Council went out to tender for the domestic abuse service in spring 2023 but due to missing information within the tender pack in terms of which buildings would be used for the service and the associated costs it, it became difficult for partners to provide a comprehensive bid for that service. The Council has since paused the procurement and met with partners to gather feedback and explore the questions that they had been raising through the procurement process and would relaunch the tender once everything had been clear. The incumbent provider would remain in place with no gap in the service until the process had concluded. Councillors would be briefed prior to the relaunch to provide reassurance;


The Committee agreed to note the report.

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