Hounslow Council


Agenda and minutes

Venue: Da Spot, Balfour Road, Hounslow.

Contact: Bill Lee on 0208 583 2068 or Email: william.lee@hounslow.gov.uk 

Items
No. Item

9.

Apologies for Absence

10.

Summer Activities pdf icon PDF 163 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Please see the report by Adriana Thomas and Emma Worthington (agenda item 2).

 

Participation Manager Adriana Thomas presented a slide show of activities that had taken place over the summer, which had included clock making, scuba diving, ten pin bowling and music production. She advised that the events were not just great fun but an excellent way for officers and young people to get to know each other, something that even applied to the coach trip to and from the venue. The Total Respect training event and the summer residential trip to Skern Lodge in Devon had also been highly successful. Young people present said that they had thoroughly enjoyed the activities; one had conquered their fear of heights, another had given up smoking while another had discovered they could surf. All had made new friends although this had been from within their own group rather that from other boroughs. Ms Worthington added that that one boy had been very successful at helping other young people to overcome fears.

 

Young people advised that they had helped to train over 20 professionals at the Total Respect event which they felt had been a great success. The group that had taken part in a music course had played to an audience and were now part of an ongoing weekly project where they were composing songs. Ms Worthington stated they were working towards a Bronze Arts Award and hoped to release an album in February 2015; children were learning to play instruments and youngsters between the ages of 9 and 19 were working very well together. One of the young people said that she had obtained some qualifications and found some very good opportunities among the available activities to help those who perhaps struggled at school.

 

Ms Thomas asked if members had any questions for the Children in Care Council regarding the annual survey (page 6). Cllr Candice Atterton asked if young people felt supported out of hours and Cllr Paul Lynch asked if there were concerns regarding continuity arising from the turnover of social workers. He suggested that young people should be asked if they had experienced a change of social worker and if so, had the changeover worked well.

 

The Chair thanked everybody for their contributions.

11.

Adoptions Over Five Years pdf icon PDF 141 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Please see the report by Christine Smart, Head of Corporate Parenting (agenda item 3).

 

Ms Smart advised that for children under five, officers always looked to family and friends first when looking for adopters; if that failed the authority examined other means to adopt. The process was usually successful in that age group, although difficulties could arise, usually regarding disabilities, emotional problems or other issues. When children were older than five years it was necessary to look at the individual child as they had made many connections by then, for example with foster carers. The foster carer may ask to adopt which was often the best opportunity for adoption for older children. The authority looked at various ways to attract adopters for older children, including holding events and working with agencies. The most important thing was to work with the young people and look at what was right for them. Ms Smart stressed that there was no fixed idea; for example adoption may not be the best course for a particular four year old whereas another child may be perfectly suited at six.

 

The Chair thanked Ms Smart for the report and advised that the subject would be examined in more detail in June 2015. Cllr John Todd said that the quarterly statistics showed that the adoption process was slow; he asked when plans to address that issue would come into force. Ms Hogan advised that work had already begun but adoption could still take a long time in some cases of necessity. Cllr Todd felt that Hounslow appeared to be out of step with other boroughs and he asked if the target could be met within the next three months. Ms Hogan said that two panels had been established to look into what was slowing the process down and that she hoped targets could be met. Cllr Tom Bruce stated that there was a year to implement the performance indicators and it was hoped to meet the target within six months. Cllr Paul Lynch advised that he was a member of the Adoption Panel and could confirm that the entire process was carried out with the most meticulous care. The final decision to match parents with a child took a great deal of time and had a high success rate, which was the most important thing.

 

One of the young people present said that she would like to see all children in care have the chance to be adopted. Another young person felt that fostering was often the best option for the over fives although adoption was ideal if that was what the child wanted. Ms Hogan advised that officers encouraged foster carers to adopt if they were fostering a child long term, adding that the service agreed that all children who wanted to be adopted should be given the chance if at all possible.

 

12.

Independent Advocacy Service pdf icon PDF 151 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Please see the report by Andrew Dickie, Head of Coram Voice and Christine Smart, Head of Corporate Parenting (agenda item 4).

 

Mr Dickie advised that Coram Voice had been providing the advocacy service since July 2013. He was pleased to say that the uptake of the service had increased by 46% on the previous year. He wanted to make the service as successful as possible; a Freephone number had been distributed to young people who were encouraged to call and staff had visited the Ride to tell residents how to access advocacy support. Packs had been distributed and service users had been asked to complete an outcomes chart. Feedback had been good and Mr Dickie stressed that the point of the service was to support and empower young people in care regarding their rights and their lives. He acknowledged that there were areas where Coram Voice wanted to improve, primarily with regard to young people in out of borough placements. The service carried out early interventions where relationships with carers were strained and their work had demonstrably impacted on the level of Children’s Services complaints. The service was focussed on young people, not officers, Mr Dickie added.

 

The Chair asked the young people present if they were familiar with Coram Voice and the service it offered and found that some were and some weren’t. One of the young people asked if a drop in service could be provided to allow children to learn about the advocacy service; Mr Dickie said it would be looked into. Cllr Bruce asked what was being done to make all looked after children aware of Coram Voice, given the impact it had evidently had on those it had worked with. Mr Dickie stated that they were focussing on the Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) and foster carers to reach young people through them. Maureen Simpson said that she would ask that the service be put on the agenda at the carers’ group and was featured in the foster carers’ magazine. Cllr Harleen Atwal Hear asked how young people accessed the service. Mr Dickie stated that any children in care could contact them through their social worker, another officer, or directly. They could approach in person or phone and advocates usually went to the young people as they were based in Russell Square in London W1.

 

Cllr John Todd said that he had found the report very useful and felt that the ability of outsiders to listen to looked after children was invaluable; however he was worried about an apparent lack of awareness of the service among many young people. He asked when information was fed back to the Council by Coram Voice. Mr Dickie advised that there were quarterly meetings with Council officers and feedback was provided then. Cllr Paul Lynch felt that the service may be a difficult concept for young people to grasp and he was interested to discover how young people were told and kept reminded. He felt that a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 12.

13.

Health of Looked After Children pdf icon PDF 153 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Please see the report by Judith Banks, Specialist Nurse for LAC, Christine Smart, Head of Corporate Parenting and Julie Hale, Service Manager, Hounslow and Richmond Community Health Care (agenda item 5).

 

Ms Smart expressed her regret that an officer from Health was not present. She advised that all the Borough’s 332 looked after children (LAC)   were encouraged to have their statutory medical and dental checks. This proved more difficult with older children than the younger ones although the overall figure of 91% of LACs having their health assessments was good in comparison to other local authorities.  Dental checks were more difficult although officers did their best; healthy eating programs were in place. In addition to statutory requirements Hounslow had two psychologists and three clinical social workers to support LAC’s mental and emotional wellbeing. A new Health Nurse, based at Da Spot, had been recruited during the summer. The nurse travelled out of borough up to a ten mile radius; if a child was placed further away then arrangements were made to ensure that high quality care was received.

 

Cllr Paul Lynch said that in the past the fact that LAC were less healthy than the general population had been remarked on; he asked ifthe gap was being closed.  He also asked if there were plans to deal with stress, which had been revealed as the most prevalent health problem among LAC. Ms Smart did not know if the health gap had closed but advised that extra resources such as the provision of psychologists had been put in place to help with LAC’s emotional and mental health. Research based work on attachment was being conducted with foster carers and progress was being made. Young people present confirmed that they used the service and found it very helpful. Ms Smart stated that the service had spent money in 2013 to help the under 16s to obtain gym passes. This year funding had been used more flexibly on whatever would help with young people’s health and wellbeing. It had been found that the over 16s needed considerable encouragement to take part but the LAC nurse had been very successful in persuading them.

14.

Independent Reviewing Officer Challenge pdf icon PDF 84 KB

Minutes:

Please see the report by Paul Hewitt, Head of Safeguarding Children & Quality Assurance (agenda item 6).

 

Mr Hewitt presented the report, advising that he had worked at Hounslow for the past seven months. He described the report as an overview of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) service, which he said had the function of being a mechanism to hold professionals to account with regard to quality of care.  In its review Ofsted had said that Hounslow’s IRO service had not been challenging enough; there was, quite rightly, a major expectation of scrutiny placed upon IROs. IROs chaired review meetings of all looked after children (LACs). There were a large number of such reviews annually and the service was responsible for ensuring that there was a joined up approach and that everyone involved in care fulfilled their responsibilities entirely. Mr Hewitt’s expectation was that officers did not stop at the legal minimum required of them but fully examined at all relationships between staff and young people in care. Recent research conducted by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) had concluded that creating what was described as a “culture of challenge” within an authority was critical to improving standards. This was at the heart of what the IRO service was trying to do.

 

The service depended on IROs building relationships with LACs over time. Each had 50 to 60 young people in their caseload; they had to communicate effectively with both the young people and senior management and get to know the case history and background of each child. The report now presented was the precursor to a future report to the Corporate Parenting Panel and Mr Hewitt would ensure that the voice of LACs would be firmly part of that report. He described staff as first class and believed that the service was heading in the right direction and was building towards having a permanent manager. There was an expectation that IROs would challenge officers and management, raising standards, but would also celebrate all the good things happening in the lives of children in care. There was both a need to advance good practice through challenge and to celebrate the good where found.

 

Cllr Tom Bruce advised that an Annual Review would be published in December 2014 which would be discussed in more detail at a later meeting. He welcomed feedback from members; there were no questions.

15.

Performance pdf icon PDF 89 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Please see the report by Sean Hayes, Head of Performance & Data and Chris Hyde, Planning & Performance Officer.

 

Mr Hyde presented the report accompanied by slides. He advised that the report did not track recent developments and whilst stability figures were not so good, measuring this was very difficult. Mr Hyde acknowledged that there was still a way to go on performance but he stressed that very small numbers of young people were involved and so figures naturally changed a lot from year to year. The Borough’s looked after children (LACs) were doing better overall at GCSEs but not so well at English and Maths. School absences were decreasing rapidly and were well below the England & Wales average. Offending rates were very good too. Speed of adoption was improving and numbers were up on the previous year although again, small numbers were involved making statistics gathering difficult. Care leavers between the ages of 19 and 21 were subject to a new method of measure for which long term data was not yet available.

 

Jacqui McShannon advised that Mr Hyde had highlighted the areas of greatest concern. Education was a key area; a new head of the virtual college was in post who would attend the Panel’s December meeting with an action plan. A dedicated officer would be appointed to manage the issue of those young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) who would conduct an analysis and manage the workers involved. This area was a key challenge as both Ofsted and the authority were well aware. Officers were examining skills and employment readiness across the Borough as a whole.

 

Cllr Tom Bruce advised that there was a need to scrutinise the data, to look at what was happening and why. He referred members to page 78 containing next steps, key information and questions. He asked Panel members if they were satisfied that issues would be addressed and stressed the importance of closing the education gap between Hounslow LACs and other boroughs, taking into account the small size of the cohort and resultant statistical problems.

 

Cllr Paul Lynch asked about the dramatic improvement in school attendance. Ms McShannon advised that officers had paid a great deal of attention to the issue and set up a task group that had looked at every child and ensured that social workers were aware of the matter as a priority. The Borough was now close to the top quartile and the team had been rigorous in following up absences. Daily reports had been obtained and absence was recognised as a safeguarding issue. The service took a strategic view of attainment and examined ways in which key stage outcomes could be improved. Foster carers had been provided with a pack including books and this had helped to improve Key Stage 2 results. Officers were looking at best practice in other authorities across the country.

 

Cllr Bruce asked how and why there had been an improvement in the figures for LAC given  ...  view the full minutes text for item 15.

16.

Indicative Work Plan pdf icon PDF 67 KB

Minutes:

Please see the report by Jacqui McShannon, Interim Assistant Director, Children’s Safeguarding & Specialist Services and Chris Hyde, Planning & Performance Officer (agenda item 8).

 

Following full consideration and discussion Members agreed the suggested agenda items for the December 2014, March 2015 and June 2015 meetings of the Corporate Parenting Panel.

17.

Any Other Business

Minutes:

Jacqui McShannon advised that the meeting was the last to be attended by Christine Smart, Head of Corporate Parenting, who was to leave the Council’s employ in November. The Panel thanked Ms Smart for her contribution to the service and wished her well for the future.