Ms M Hall, Commissioning Manager, was in attendance for this item.
1. Ms Hall introduced the report and highlighted key areas of work and progress since the Panel had last received an update, including much work on an intense review of the Strategy since December 2016. The Panel had been receiving updates twice-yearly on progress against achieving the eight measures in the Strategy, and this would continue. There were currently two areas in which improvement was sought – measures 3 (placements beyond 20 miles from a child’s family home) and 6 (children having three or more placements). In response to comments and questions from the Panel, Ms Hall, Mr Segurola and Ms Khosla explained the following:-
a) in response to a concern that the present measures were not sufficiently robust or precise, worded as ‘we expect to see..’ rather than ‘we will…’, Ms Hall explained that work was in hand to revisit and tighten these in the light of changing provision, eg the number of independent accommodation providers had increased greatly in the last 2 or three 3 years. Mr Segurola added that it would also be necessary to revisit the breadth and variety of provision, linking to the 0 – 21 and 0 – 25 strategies;
b) in terms of placement stability, work was ongoing with VSK and the new Head of the Fostering service, Caroline Smith, under the ‘Sense of Belonging’ programme, to increase stability. Additionally, in the ‘Mocking Bird’ model, one respite household would be established for every three care households;
c) all children’s commissioning activity was now undertaken by one combined commissioning team under a new Interim Head of Children’s Commissioning, Karen Sharp, which had made it more possible to achieve an overview of activity;
d) Ms Khosla added that the County Council needed to use the Strategy to promote its activity in housing care leavers, particularly UASC, and could liaise particularly with district councils’ housing departments. To get a clear and full picture of need and provision, which was a complex service area, it would be necessary to take account of patterns of adoption and special guardianship orders and their effect in freeing up foster care placements. In that way, the County Council could ‘future proof’ its service;
e) safety pods were welcomed as a new initiative which would avoid the need to use bed and breakfast accommodation to house young people. Any shared accommodation would be used only for a maximum of 28 days while a young person’s needs were being assessed;
f) in response to a question about the provision of training accommodation for young people, in which they could learn cooking and budgeting skills, Ms Khosla commented that this would be a good project to take on;
g) a request was made that future performance reports give actual figures, eg of the numbers of young people using a service, rather than the percentages shown currently; and
h) in response to a concern about the rate of placement breakdown, and how breakdown could be avoided if signs were noticed early enough, Mr Segurola advised that support for foster carers taking on children with challenging needs was provided by the Sense of Belonging programme and Mocking Bird model. More support would also be given to foster carers at the start of a placement, and work currently being done to improve CAMHS would also help placement stability.
2. RESOLVED that the reviewed and updated Sufficiency, Placements and Commissioning Strategy 2015 – 2018 be welcomed and endorsed.