Agenda item

Verbal Update by Cabinet Member


1.            Mr P J Oakford then gave a verbal update on the following issues:-


Foster Carers Mr and Mrs Upton of Canterbury had each been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list. Over 32 years they had fostered 151 children and young people.

Takeover challenge day in December – young people had taken over Specialists Children’s Services for a day and had run meetings and questioned officers and the Cabinet Member.  The day had been challenging but successful and very useful for both sides.

Early help team scorecard shared with young people for their comments – challenging questions had also been asked about this.

 Visit to Montague House social work team – here he had met social workers, management and the administrative team and had been able to see at first hand the challenges faced at all these levels.

Children’s Commissioner – a recent meeting had successfully highlighted the issue of large numbers of children in care being placed in Kent by other local authorities. This issue had now been added to the Commissioner’s Business Plan.

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) - The number of new arrivals had dropped dramatically, with only 20 arriving over the last 5 weeks, giving a current UASC population of 600. However, the pressure on services was now transferring to the 18+ service as large numbers of UASC turned 18.  There were currently 700 young people in this category and this would rise to 1,000 by the end of May 2017.  The former reception centre at Swattenden had now closed and only Millbank was still in use, currently housing 10 young people. Under the national dispersal programme, all UASC arriving since July 2016 had been successfully accommodated by other local authorities around the UK.


2.            In response to comments and questions from the Panel, Mr Oakford explained the following:-


a)    training on child sexual exploitation given by Kent Police had been very well received and a film used as part of the training was praised by those who had seen it as being frank and hard-hitting.  However, suggestions that this film be shared with a wider audience, including Kent MPs, foster carers and County Council Members, had been met with the view from the Police that its content was considered too disturbing. One particularly shocking aspect of the film was gangs’ apparent awareness of vulnerable children in care; the first question they would ask of a child would be their care status;


b)    the issue of other local authorities, particularly London boroughs, placing large numbers of children in care in Kent had long been a concern, and an added concern now was from media coverage that some of these young people may be bringing drug habits and other problems into Kent. Placing authorities were known not to be diligent in undertaking the necessary risk assessments ahead of placing a child out of their area, and concern expressed about what corporate parents in the receiving area could do, realistically, to address the issue.  A view was expressed that it should not be the responsibility of the receiving authority to lobby the Government; instead, the Secretary of State and Children’s Commissioner should take an overview and take on this responsibility. Mr Oakford advised that he was a member of the Children’s Board of the Local Government Association and undertook to raise this issue there;


c)    a school governor on the Panel spoke of a case of a 14-year-old being placed in Kent and smuggling drugs into the school in which she had been placed. The safety of the placed child and of other children in the school was of great concern, and it was suggested that this issue be referred to the Education and Young People’s Services Cabinet Committee.  Mr Segurola added that, at the time of a child in care being placed into Kent, if the County Council felt that the school placement found for them was inappropriate, it would be challenged. Mr Heather added that educational professionals in Kent were aware of the highly organised nature of gangs which sought to infiltrate schools with drugs.  Ms Emptage added that the Kent education service had a support system for its own children in care but had no knowledge of issues potentially coming in with children placed by other local authorities.  She confirmed that schools were rarely given any briefing prior to a placement being made, and there had been no application by a placing authority to set up any support system in advance of placing a child.  It was suggested that a survey of schools be undertaken to identify the scale and breadth of the problem;


d)    Mr Doran added that it was difficult for anyone outside Kent to understand the scale of the challenge Kent faced. The national average population of children in care in secondary schools was 6%, but some areas of Kent had rates as high as 50%. Ms O’Grady added that Kent had a population of 1,300 children in care placed by other local authorities, yet placed only 300 of its own children in care out of the county;


e)      a view was expressed that young people should be helped to see and understand the whole issue of drugs and the damage they did to society and to individuals’ physical and mental health. Any media or entertainment giving the impression that drugs were glamorous in any way should be banned;


f)       Mr Oakford was thanked for raising this important subject as the Panel had been able to have a frank and useful discussion about it; and


g)    the takeover challenge was welcomed as a good engagement exercise.  If this were repeated, it would be most useful for the Panel to be involved.


3.                  RESOLVED that the verbal updates be noted, with thanks, and that the danger of drugs and gang culture coming into Kent with children placed by other local authorities be referred to the Local Government Association Children’s Board and the County Council’s Education and Young People’s Services Cabinet Committee, as set out above.