1. Ms Khosla introduced the report and highlighted progress made in the six months since a review of the fostering service had been requested in April 2016, when she had taken up her post. The fostering team now had a permanent head of service, Caroline Smith.
2. The Cabinet Member, Mr Oakford, commented that the report of the independent review had been excellent. However, he expressed his disappointment at the media coverage which had ensued from its publication, which had focussed on and magnified a negative part of the review report. An industry expert who had been asked in a radio interview to comment on the review had been most complimentary about Kent’s service.
3. Ms Khosla, Ms Smith and Mr Segurola responded to comments and questions from Members, as follows:
a) in response to a question asked on behalf of a Thanet foster carer, about independent foster carers being used for placements ahead of in-house foster carers who might have capacity, Mr Segurola said he understood Thanet foster carers’ frustration at having vacancies but had to bear in mind the pressure that large numbers of children in care would have on local services, for example, school places and health services. Having criticised other local authorities for placing excessive numbers of children in care in Kent, Kent must be careful that it did not replicate this trend with its own children in care. He clarified that the county council had discretion to place non-Thanet children within Thanet, as long as good quality matches could be found. He undertook to reply directly to the foster carer who had submitted the question;
b) in response to a question about how the county council could compete with independent fostering agencies (IFAs), and the extent to which avoiding paying IFA fees would increase the funding available to support young people, Ms Smith explained that the county council was seeking both to broaden its range of foster carers and to have foster carer ambassadors to target recruitment of foster carers in shortest supply, such as mature carers and carers for disabled children, older children and siblings. It was known that many foster carers were first attracted to the service via word of mouth from friends and neighbours. The target was to recruit 200 new foster carers in the next 12 months, to support the improvement of the service. Recruitment campaigns would target areas of high footfall, such as rail stations. The content and visual impact of fostering campaign leaflets was praised;
c) in response to a question about the quality of recording and record keeping, which Ofsted had criticised, Ms Khosla confirmed that Ofsted inspectors had been able to view all records. Ms Smith added that a dedicated officer had been engaged whose job it was to review and upload all records electronically. This project was currently halfway through and would be complete by the time of the next Ofsted review;
d) it was suggested that the report, with the addition of suitable RAG ratings for each part of the action plan, be submitted to full Council in 3 months’ time. This would raise awareness of the corporate parenting responsibility of all 84 Members and give them confidence that a robust service was in place. The best timing of this report was discussed, and whether or not the issue should first be reported back to the Children’s Social Care and Health Cabinet Committees, although the need to raise awareness of the corporate parenting responsibility among other Members was agreed. Ms Khosla advised that the action plan was already RAG rated; and
e) the issue of corporate parenting training for newly-elected Members was then discussed, and a view expressed that this be part of the core training, early in a new Member’s term of office. It was pointed out that the corporate parenting role did not appear in the ‘job description for a County Councillor in the county council constitution. It was also suggested that the ‘key questions to ask’ document, concerned with safeguarding, be re-issued. Ms O’Grady reported that she was working with young people to re-design the e.learning module on safeguarding and the corporate parenting handbook, and to raise the profile of this issue.
4. RESOLVED that:-
a) the content of the fostering review be noted, and the fostering service action plan be endorsed; and
b) a further report be made to the Panel in six months’ time and the Chairman take advice on reporting the issue to full Council.