Agenda and minutes

Corporate Parenting Panel - Friday, 14th February, 2014 10.00 am

Venue: Darent Room, Sessions House, County Hall, Maidstone. View directions

Contact: Theresa Grayell  (01622) 694277

No. Item


Minutes of the meeting held on 13 December 2013 pdf icon PDF 66 KB


1.         RESOLVED that the minutes of the meeting held on 13 December 2013 are correctly recorded and they be signed by the Chairman.


2.         It had been agreed at the last meeting (minute 70) that the Panel would receive the minutes of meetings of the Kent Corporate Parenting Group, to give the Panel an overview of the work of the Group.  This arrangement would commence following the next meeting of the Group.


3.         There were no other matters arising.


Chairman's Announcements


1.         The Chairman announced the Kent Foster Care Association’s sports day event on 27 May 2014, for which an updated flyer had been tabled.  Panel members were invited and asked to contact Carolyn Moody if they wished to attend.


2.         She then welcomed to the meeting Mrs Patricia Denney, who had recently taken over the post of Assistant Director of Safeguarding and Quality Assurance.




Oral update from Our Children and Young People's Council


1.         Ms Dunstan tabled a list of events for children and young people in care organised by the Council for the half-term week of 17 – 21 February and initial activities planned for the Easter school holidays, and an agenda for the Council’s next meeting on 18 February.  She also circulated copies of an early draft of an Easter newsletter produced for members of the Junior Children in Care Council, to illustrate to the Panel the sort of colourful and engaging material that VSK apprentices produced for younger children. 


2.         The update and written material were noted, with thanks.   


Cabinet Member's Oral Update


1.         Mrs Whittle gave an oral update on the following issues:-


A number of recent announcements had been made and developments arisen which affect children’s services and children in care:

  • the Minister for Children and Families, Edward Timpson, had recently announced a formal limit on the maximum distance allowed for placements of children in care.  Some two-thirds of the 1,200 children in care currently placed in Kent had come from London, and this recent announcement should help to reduce this number;
  • London Boroughs campaigning to recruit foster carers in Kent, (for example, in Dartford) should be working as part of the London Consortium to recruit foster carers from within London.  Mrs Whittle said she would be writing to the Minister to seek clarification of responsibilities around this issue and emphasising that sanctions needed to be put in place to address it;
  • work would be needed to strengthen Inspection Panels for children‘s homes. Approximately one-third of the total national Budget of £3billion was spent on children’s homes, yet only 9% of the children in care population was accommodated in them;
  • the Government’s allocation of funding for the Staying Put initiative was yet to be advised, and the changes in benefits eligibility and payment still to be clarified.  The financial implications of both would need to be carefully considered;
  • all Virtual Schools were now required to have a Head Teacher, but Kent was ahead by already having one;
  • a Parliamentary debate would shortly take place about extending the same right to young people housed in children’s homes as young people in foster care already had, ie to stay with their foster carers until the age of 21;
  • a review of social work training by Sir Martin Narey, Advisor to the Education Secretary, had made 18 recommendations, some of which focussed on the calibre of new entrants to the profession and the relevance of degree courses in preparing graduates sufficiently for the reality of the social worker role. Only one third of entrants to degree courses had one or more A-levels – a low level of academic achievement which raised concern. These issues would need wider discussion;
  • an increasing reliance on agency social workers was also a concern. It was necessary to have some agency workers, but fees charged by agencies made those social workers more expensive to employ than directly-employed social workers.  The implications of this on the County Council recruitment strategy would need to be explored; and
  • feedback from the 50 new, qualified social workers recruited by the County Council in September 2013 had so far been good, and Mrs Whittle said she was confident that social work practice was more robust than it had been previously.


2.         Mrs Whittle and Ms MacNeil responded to comments and questions from the Panel and the following points were highlighted:-


a)         it was not possible, without checking, to report the number of applications received for the 50 posts filled in September 2013, but Ms MacNeil assured the Panel that applicants  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.


Update on the Adoption Service pdf icon PDF 18 KB

Additional documents:


Ms Y Shah, Interim Head of Adoption Service and Improvement, Coram/KCC, was in attendance for this item.


1.         Ms Shah introduced the report and outlined the key areas of progress in the adopters’ and child’s journeys. Key points were as follows:-


  • Coram had tried to provide accurate data from manual management information reports as it was currently not receiving any reports from the new ‘Liberi’ system;
  • timescales for all areas of adoption activity were improving. The DfE had further reduced the target timescales for placing children, to apply from April 2014;  from placement order to placement had been reduced from six to four months, and from entering care to being placed had been reduced from 16 to 14 months;
  • so far in the 2013/14 year, 141 adopters had been approved and  this number was expected to rise to160 by the end of March;
  • so far in the 2013/14 year, 144 children had been placed and  this number was projected to rise to 170 by the end of March.  A major challenge which could delay a successful placement was opposition to it from the child’s birth parents.  Another challenge was the time taken by courts to hear adoption applications. Such delays could be distressing for the child and the adopters;
  • the success of the adoption service was always reliant on the availability of adopters. Approximately 150 – 160 approved adopters were needed at any one time, although the number of adopters available was only part of the picture; adopters needed to be suitable for the needs and age range of the children awaiting placement;
  • a new process for approving adopters had sought to speed up the process; a first stage of approval would take two months and a second stage four months. The approval process relied on receiving prompt replies from referees and professionals supplying medical records.  The health of adopters had recently shown up the issue of obesity, and some had been advised to lose weight before they could be approved;
  • recent adoption events had been attended by prospective adopters from Brighton and London;
  • to save time, and hence speed up the approval process, the adoption team was considering starting to ask prospective adopters to attend the office rather than visit each at their home; 
  • savings in expenditure on printing and postage could be made by sending adoption panel papers to Panel members by email; and
  • Ms MacNeil added that the interview process for a Head of the Adoption Service would continue.


2.         Ms Shah, Ms MacNeil and Mr Brightwell responded to comments and questions from Members and the following points were highlighted:-


a)         concern was expressed that prospective adopters’ obesity was raised as an issue at the approval stage.  However, obesity could be viewed as an indicator of poor dietary knowledge which could be passed on to any adopted children.  Ms Shah explained that concerns about adopters’ health could delay their application as those approving them would need to be sure that they could accept advice about  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.


Update regarding the work of the Head Teacher of the Virtual School Kent pdf icon PDF 44 KB

Additional documents:


Mr T Doran, Head Teacher for Virtual School Kent, was in attendance for this item.


1.         Mr Doran introduced the report, highlighted performance against key targets and added the following:-

  • one area of concern was the steady rate of permanent exclusions.  Work was continuing to reduce this rate, and although it was feasible to work at reducing the general trend, it was simply not possible to plan for or avoid major incidents which arose from time to time; 
  • the rate of fixed-term exclusions had doubled, and such cases needed to be handled very carefully to avoid them becoming permanent exclusions;
  • VSK had been recognised nationally for its work on developing a national standard for schools to work effectively with children in care and was hoping that this work could be rolled out to other local authorities;
  • it had also been shortlisted for the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Champions award and would  know on 26 February if it had been successful; 
  • the pupil premium per child per year would be rising from £900 to £1,100 in April 2014.  This money could be used for any purpose which would benefit a child’s education; and
  • VSK would shortly be meeting the DfE about the resources needed for, and the implications of, the Children and Families Bill.


2.         Mr Doran responded to comments and questions from Panel members and the following points were highlighted:-


a)         it was suggested that the report be referred to the Education Cabinet Committee to highlight and refer onwards the issues which could be addressed by that Committee, and Mrs Whittle undertook to speak to the Directors of Families and Social Care and Education, Learning and Skills to make this connection;


b)         Mr Doran explained that the number of fixed-term exclusions had risen from 38 in Terms 1 and 2 (September to December) of 2012 to 75 in the same period of 2013, but that the average number of days for which a fixed-term exclusion would apply had reduced and was now between three and six days; 


c)         a foster carer on the Panel referred to a case, of which she had personal experience, of a nine-year-old boy who had been permanently excluded and who had waited for six months to have his special educational needs discussed, with a view to achieving an SEN statement.  Mr Doran explained that a child with no SEN statement and for whom an exclusion was their first would normally be allowed to have two fixed-term exclusions before being permanently excluded, and that VSK would be able to support a foster carer to address the issues which this raised;


d)         in response to a question about persistent absence from school, and the role that mental health issues may play in this, Mr Doran said that mental health issues were a recognised contributor to persistent absence.  He confirmed that a school’s regime would be examined for possible causes of behavioural difficulties and that school staff were supported to cope with and address such issues.  He  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.


Ofsted Inspection Action Plans - Update pdf icon PDF 38 KB

Additional documents:


1.         Mr Brightwell introduced the report and responded to comments and questions from Members. The following points were highlighted:-


a)         in response to a question about the use of bed and breakfast accommodation, Mr Brightwell explained that the County Council was committed to cease using such accommodation for teenagers leaving care as it felt that it was unsuitable for young people living alone.  There were only two young people currently in such accommodation and they had requested to stay there as they found that it suited them.  There was one bed and breakfast establishment which catered solely for young people leaving care;


b)         in response to a question about ‘deep dive studies’, Mr Brightwell explained that such exercises were undertaken quarterly in each area.  A half-day scrutiny session was robust and involved senior managers and staff, and the results reported to the Children’s Services Improvement Panel, at which the outcomes were questioned robustly;


c)         Mr Brightwell assured Members that actions in the plans were ongoing and that no complacency would be allowed around ongoing improvement.  Having moved from an ‘inadequate’ to an ‘adequate’ rating, the County Council would then work at moving from ‘adequate’ to ‘good’; and


d)         in response to a question about IRO workloads, Mr Brightwell said the average workload had reduced to 84 cases.  The ‘ideal’ caseload size, cited in the official IRO handbook, was 50 – 70, while the national average was 82 – 83.  However, the aim was not for Kent to be average in this regard but to be good.


2.         RESOLVED that the progress made on the Ofsted action plans be noted, with thanks.


The Journey to Independence for Kent Care Leavers pdf icon PDF 45 KB

Additional documents:


Mrs S Skinner, Service Business Manager, Virtual School Kent, Ms S Mullin, Commissioning Manager, Strategic Commissioning Unit, and Ms R Tinsley, Business Intelligence Manager, were in attendance for this item.


1.         Mrs Skinner introduced the report and tabled a leaflet, ‘Our Promises to You’, which summarised the promises in Kent’s Charter for Care Leavers and reinforced the Council’s commitment to them which had previously been set out in the Kent Pledge. The Pledge would be incorporated into the Charter. She explained that there were many questions still to resolve in the development of the Care Leavers’ Charter.  Mrs Skinner, Ms Mullin, Ms Tinsley, Mr Brightwell and Ms MacNeil responded to comments and questions from Panel members and the following points were highlighted:-


a)         the ‘Promises’ leaflet was praised as excellent and officers were asked to clarify its intended circulation.  Mrs Skinner explained that the Charter document had not yet been finally signed off but would be considered at a later date by the Kent Corporate Parenting Group.  Once completed, its circulation was intended to be broad and include publication online.  The Charter and the Pledge would complement each other and the latter would be refreshed and re-launched in early March 2014. It was suggested that a presentation on the Charter be made to a meeting of the full Council, with all County Council Members then being sent a copy of it;


b)         some social workers working with foster carers did not seem to be very aware of the Pledge and it could be a struggle to access it. Mr Brightwell explained that all IROs were required to review the content of the Pledge as part of their yearly review. He added that the majority (some 92.4%) of children in care were satisfied with the way in which Pledge commitments were being delivered to them; 


c)         the leaflet was praised as being child-friendly and something which young people would believe and rely on, so it was vital that the promises in it were delivered;


d)         it was suggested that the reciprocal nature of the relationship between a local authority and the young people in its care should be highlighted by a leaflet to set out what commitment the Council expected in turn from young people – for example, that they would study hard at school and work hard at finding and retaining employment;


e)         the language of the leaflet could be changed to ‘we’, to emphasise a partnership role; ‘together’. The text could emphasis that young people would be listened to;


f)          it was noted that none of the young people pictured on the leaflet appeared to have any disability, and this could alienate disabled young people;


Mrs Skinner thanked Panel members for their feedback on the content and style of the leaflet and added that it would be taken to the Our Children and Young People’s Council events in half-term week to seek feedback from young people, and the idea of the companion leaflet setting out the County Council’s expectations  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.


Position Statement: Fostering pdf icon PDF 129 KB


It was RESOLVED that this item be considered at the Panel’s next meeting.