1. Mrs Whittle gave an oral update on the following issues:-
· KCC/Coram Adoption Summit was well attended. A map is being launched on 11 January to show ‘hotspots’ where adoption rates are of particular concern. So far in this financial year, 107 children have been placed with adoptive parents, compared to 68 in the whole of the 2011/12 year.
· Ofsted inspection outcome will be published on15 January. A further inspection of Adoption, Fostering and Children in Careis expected in late Spring.
· Care Leavers’ Charter - KCC will sign up to the Charter, which includes parts which relate to educational attainment of children in care.
· Launch of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services.
· KCC has been invited to speak to the Joint Human Resources Committee on support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC). There is still a £3m funding gap, so lobbying of the Minister will continue, to keep the issue live.
2. Mrs Whittle responded to comments and questions from Members, as follows:-
a) Members thanked Mrs Whittle and paid tribute to all the work she has done to promote and improve KCC’s adoption service and to tackle other issues, such as UASC. They also expressed dismay that the news media still choose to give negative rather than positive coverage. Although KCC has wanted to improve its Adoption service, it has actually matched the national average in terms of its performance. Having an improvement notice for its safeguarding service drew critical attention to its other services, and because KCC is upfront about its wish to improve (ie by engaging Martin Narey) this can and has drawn negative media attention to its other services. KCC’s Adoption service is now performing above the national average, and much work is going on to improve relationships with Courts to speed up the adoption process. Potential new initiatives such as Adoption ‘parties’, which have been trialled by other local authorities, need to be very carefully thought through before being tried in Kent;
b) a view was expressed that KCC perhaps needs to be a bit smarter about its public relations approach and try to predict follow-up enquiries and how a statement might be used or misused. Perhaps a new style of press release would help;
c) the number of children in care has now stabilised and it is hoped that it won’t increase further, but it is not realistic to expect it to decrease;
d) KCC continues to fund services for those young people who have exhausted all rights to stay and are awaiting repatriation. The security of the accommodation used for these young people needs to be reviewed, to protect them from potential traffickers;
e) Members expressed ongoing concern about the number of agency, temporary and interim staff being employed and the need to achieve as many permanent appointments as possible. Members would like to see a plan setting out how this aim will be achieved; and
f) it had been noted, by Members as well as Martin Narey in his review, that all Adoption staff and all the speakers at the recent Adoption summit, are female. Fathers are often the most difficult to convince about adoption, and having some male Adoption staff might start to address this problem. Mrs Whittle agreed with the observation that Adoption can appear to be a female-only issue and undertook to look into why there are no male staff in the Adoption team and what can be done to address this.
3. Mr Ireland then gave an oral update on the following issues:-
4. The oral updates were noted, with thanks.