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

52.

Apologies for Absence

53.

Minutes of the meeting held on 3 June 2015 and Matters Arising pdf icon PDF 80 KB

Minutes:

Minute 43, Items from Young People: Page 1, paragraph 1; Adriana Thomas advised that she was not a Participation Manager as stated but a Participation Officer.

 

Minute 46, Fostering Annual Report: Page 6, paragraph 2; Maureen Simpson advised that looked after children did not attend all foster carer training sessions as stated but did attend a session during the six week training course for new carers. There they talked about their experiences of being in and leaving care and answered questions from the newly recruited foster carers.

 

The minutes of the meeting held on 3 June 2015 were agreed to otherwise be an accurate record and signed.

 

Matters Arising:

 

Minute 44, Westbrook Ofsted reports: Jacqui McShannon advised that all actions recommended by Ofsted had been put in place.

 

Minute 45, Missing LAC: Jacqui McShannon advised that work was continuing on data gathering regarding missing children.

 

Minute 46, Fostering Annual Report: Alan Adams referred to the discussion about foster carer recruitment via ‘Hounslow Matters’ and asked if there was an update on the proposal to make more use of advertising in the magazine. Ms McShannon advised that the magazine was to become an online publication. Officers were currently in discussions with the Communications Team and it was hoped that an item on advertising could be brought to the next meeting of the Corporate Parenting Panel. Ideally a representative of the Communications Team would attend the next meeting to present the item.

 

 

54.

Items from Young People

Emma Worthington

Adriana Thomas

Minutes:

Five young people attended the meeting, four of whom were currently in care and one care leaver.

 

One of the young people present showed slides from a residential event held in August which had been attended by 24 young people in two groups for the same cost as just one group in 2014. Another told members about elections held by the Children in Care Council (CiCC) where a new Chair, Co-Chair and Minute Taker had recently been elected. Results had also been received from the CiCC’s annual survey where its members had decided on what areas to focus on. A new constitution had been written which gave the body clear rules on such matters as equal opportunities, officers’ meeting requirement, finances etc.

 

Adriana Thomas advised that feedback had been received on leaving care, housing and social care. A list of questions was handed to the Chair.

 

James, a care leaver, stated that some care leavers had experienced inappropriate housing provision, form example one person being housed in bed and breakfast accommodation for six months. The young person had been evicted and understood why that had occurred but James nonetheless felt that the young man should not have been sent to B & B. James’ own experience included becoming homeless through no fault of his own (he had become unemployed and been unable to pay rent) a situation he had been in for six months. Having no family to fall back on the eviction had resulted in him becoming what was termed “intentionally homeless,”  a phrase he accepted may be accurate for some cases but for many more, including his own, was highly misleading as he had simply been unable to pay rent for a month. He asked for clarification of the term “review of supported independent services” and wondered if the housing department were considering abolition of the service. James asked if young people in care could be better educated about benefit rights, citing friends of his who had moved to a new home after having a baby only to find inadequate bathing facilities and other problems such as mould. He called for more flexibility and transparency regarding housing needs.

 

Cllr Tom Bruce advised that he also chaired the Children’s Delivery Group, which among many other issues discussed housing for children in general but looked after children (LAC) in particular. The Group was aware of problems in this area and had asked for further meetings with the Lead Member for Housing and responsible officers; they were determined that LAC should receive maximum assistance.

55.

Leaving Care pdf icon PDF 142 KB

Anne Fitz-Patrick

WuraBolaji

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Please see the report by Anne FitzPatrick and Wura Bolaji and appendix (agenda item 4).

 

Both officers sent their apologies; the item was presented by Jacqui McShannon. James, a care leaver, praised the Personal Advisor (PA) system, crediting his with helping him to achieve good exam results. Team Manager, Children’s Services, Donna Howard stressed the importance of completing Pathway Plans even in instances when looked after children (LAC) were temporarily missing. There had been a number of judicial review challenges to Pathway Plans which was part of the reason that a lawyer from HB Law had been called in to assist with training of PAs. Ms McShannon advised that there was a need for clarity regarding the responsibilities of everyone involved, including the young people themselves. A workstream had been set up looking at housing needs and officers were working with adult mental health services as some of the young people involved were too old to access children’s services. The authority would ensure that young people received necessary support at key points and it was desirable for PAs to get involved earlier, when young people were 16. Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO) would stay with their client for an additional six months.

 

One of the young people asked if more PAs would be appointed to cope with more care leavers and Ms McShannon advised that the authority was looking closely at the possibility but acknowledged that there were resourcing issues. Bob Spencer stated that many young people had an allotted key worker linked to accommodation. Ms McShannon stressed that expectations needed to be managed and said it should be made clear that PAs couldn’t deal with every issue that may arise. The Chair asked if young people felt more support from PAs was needed. James advised that individual cases varied widely and said he only liaised with his own PA when he thought it was necessary. He was concerned at the abrupt withdrawal of so much support the moment young people turned 18. Ms Howard stated that PAs normally visited once every eight weeks but, according to the young person’s need, this could be as often as every six or even four weeks. Feedback was very welcome and young people were encouraged to ask to see PAs more often if they needed to. Emma Worthington added that PAs were in contact by email between visit and more support was always available. The Staying Put policy would also have an effect on support for some young people. Alan Adams advised that this was a known area of challenge and while there was still much to be done, improvements had been made. Resources were limited but officers did not want to simply ‘tick boxes’ but to make the best possible use of the resources that were available.

 

Emma Worthington stated that she worked with significant numbers of young people who were not in employment, education or training (NEET). To move into employment or training motivation was essential. Leaving Care Team Employment Officer  ...  view the full minutes text for item 55.

56.

Housing and Social Care pdf icon PDF 117 KB

Bob Spencer

Jen Hopper

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Please see the report by Bob Spencer, (agenda item 6).

 

Mr Spencer presented the report and acknowledged that both Housing and Children’s Safeguarding needed to develop a broad spectrum of housing.  Currently there was a gap in the available housing range of suitable accommodation for 18 to 25 year olds, which was why Children’s Safeguarding was working closely with Housing. It was recognised that there was a great disparity in needs among that age group and in fact not all were able to cope fully with independence. It was in no one’s interest for care leavers to become “trapped” in social housing and dependent on benefits. Jennifer Hopper advised that the service was examining its use of resources; Joint Commissioning was taking a lead. Officers were liaising with Housing, looking at areas of need but there was no immediate resolution.

 

Donna Howard advised that when young people presented as homeless it was the responsibility of their first contact to assess them; as that could take a week accommodation had to be found pending the assessment. Care leaver James stated that when he became homeless he had approached the Council only to be told that his social worker was on leave and he had been told to come back tomorrow. Ms Howard advised that he should have seen another social worker even if he had been classed as “intentionally homeless” and the member of staff who had told him to come back the following day had been wrong. Homeless young people should never be told to “come back tomorrow” as a social worker should always be there to check where they will sleep that same night. Mr Spencer agreed that if a young person’s PA was on leave there should always be cover; whilst the situation was different for over 18s there should still be an assessment. Jacqui McShannon and Alan Adams advised that James’ situation should not have become an emergency as there were now three teams dealing with over 16s in place of the original one, with better management. The Chair called for the matter to be looked into which was agreed by all officers. James acknowledged that the Pathways service had improved considerably over the six months since he had become homeless.

 

Ms Hopper felt that while it could sound alarming that supported independent services were being reviewed it was actually a positive step. Provision for adults and young people of 16 and 17 was not as effective as it should be and the review was much needed. Ms McShannon advised that one point was what Housing was able to do another point was what Children’s Services needed to do to ensure that issues were tackled. She acknowledged that James’ case should have been handled differently and assured that officers were working with Housing to avoid repetition of the same mistakes. Ms Worthington advised that it should be made clear that there were limitations on the amount of support that could be realistically offered so that young people  ...  view the full minutes text for item 56.

57.

Adoption Annual Report pdf icon PDF 115 KB

Bob Spencer

Veronica Johannesen

 

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Please see the report by Bob Spencer and Veronica Johannesen (agenda item 5).

 

Ms Johannesen presented the report. She advised that assessments were currently mostly for Special Guardianship Orders (SGO) where children are to be cared for by family or friends. There had been an increase in such orders in recent years and children who would previously been adopted are now placed under SGOs, resulting in fewer children coming up for adoption. Every relative or friend who may be willing to care for the child had to be looked at before adoption was considered but that was something that officers had always done. An Adoption Support Fund existed to assist adoptive families with financial difficulties; real need had to be demonstrated and not everyone qualified under the criteria. Support was also available to people who lived within the borough but had adopted from elsewhere and moved to Hounslow. There were also numerous overseas placements which could be difficult to administer. Officers conducted hundreds of assessments of relatives and potential adopters as well as providing support for families and long term fosterers. 

 

Alan Adams congratulated Ms Johannesen on the report and the team’s work, which he described as excellent. He stated that considerable progress had been made in what was a very challenging area for local authorities. He asked if there had been a big push to raise the number of SGOs from a low base to the current figure of 26. Ms Johannesen advised that SGOs were now the preferred option following law changes but there was debate about whether it was the best option. It had originally been intended that SGOs would apply to older children, never to babies and toddlers but that was no longer the case. A west London survey had been carried out following a large number of SGO placement breakdowns. A factor was the practice of the courts to order very short timescales, as little as two weeks in some cases and courts had sometimes overturned refusals by local authorities.  Jacqui McShannon concurred that the service often wanted adoption but courts preferred SGOs, which were usually hurried. There had been a decline in adoption as a result.

 

Bob Spencer advised that there was a myth that local authorities didn’t allow cross racial adoption but that was not true; adopters had a choice. Ms Johannesen stated that adopters were very diverse and there were many cross racial placements – training was offered regarding issues of identity in such cases. There was a current surplus of around 4,000 would be adopters. A great deal of skill and experience was required to carry out assessments for adoption and SGOs and the Council was fortunate to have a highly experienced and stable team to fulfil the role. 

58.

Young People Placed in Residential Care pdf icon PDF 169 KB

Bob Spencer

 

 

Minutes:

Please see the report by Bob Spencer, (agenda item 7).

 

Mr Spencer presented the report. He advised that there had been a significant reduction in the number of children placed in residential care and stated that the largest drop was among those placed in external residential care. These placements were usually with private providers paid for by the Council. He advised that there would always be a need for some residential placements, for example young people who were psychologically damaged could not move in with foster carers without effective therapeutic help first. Others may be given a residential placement if they were between 16 and 18 and too old to be fostered. Excellent work had also been carried out to keep young offenders out of the custodial system.

 

Cllr Candice Atterton asked if the report included young people in semi independent homes. Mr Spencer advised that it did not as the semi independent sector was for over 16s and was unregulated; the best semi independent set up matched residential care standards but quality varied widely.  He clarified that young people up to the age of 18 were eligible for residential care but they could not access the Staying Put option when over 18.

 

Cllr Atterton expressed satisfaction that no children had been placed in a secure unit, as opposed to three the previous year and she asked how that had been achieved. Mr Spencer acknowledged that it was essentially down to luck; there were some young people who were only safe if placed in a secure unit but that had not been necessary in the past year. However social workers and the manager always tried alternatives, for example a girl at the Ride had settled in well thanks to the quality of help given by staff but there had been a possibility that she may have needed to be placed in secure care.

59.

Updates to note: The Ride/Westbrook/Fostering pdf icon PDF 150 KB

Jacqui McShannon

Bob Spencer

 

Minutes:

Please see the report by Jacqui McShannon and Bob Spencer, (agenda item 8).

 

Ms McShannon presented the report.

 

60.

Any Other Business

Minutes:

Foster carer Maureen Simpson advised that the meeting was her last as she was moving away from the borough and expressed disappointment that she had been unable to meet her replacements as expected. It was agreed that the new people would come to the December meeting and that Ms Simpson would attend as well.